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Translated by Isaac Margolin I received a request from the memorial committee to contribute memories of my hometown, Maytchet. I was lucky to survive the slaughter and to arrive on a safe shore in my beloved land. But I will never forget those who didn't survive, and even if it opens wounds, I will return and relive the most horrible period that I lived. I must tell what the Nazis and their local allies had done to us. After generations of peaceful coexistence, in difficult times they betrayed us and helped our enemy destroy us.
In Maytchet, a small village, as like the other villages in the region, the Jewish inhabitants worked in various occupations, and so did our family. I remember from my childhood our grocery store. Most of the clients were rural farmers, and we especially looked forward to the sale days of Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday the weekly market day took place, in it the local farmers came to sell their products and buy their needs. On Thursdays it was the local Jews who bought things for the Sabbath.
I still remember the brick-kiln (zigalne in Yiddish) that my father was partners with Rabbi Joshua-Aharon Lozovsky, Rabbi Hiekel Israelevitz, and a local gentile named Tashuma, who managed a grocery in the village. Farmers of the neighborhood worked in the brick-kiln in a very primitive way. They took the bitumen and worked the material they put into molds and put it into an oven that was fueled by wood. This oven had a wooden roof, and because of negligent care of the vents, there was a great fire in 1927. The roof and the entire structure was burnt in the fire.
In our house, as in every Jewish house in the village, there was a cow that provided milk and other milk products for our needs. We also had a horse and wagon. Every summer we would rent a piece of land to sow crops such as potatoes. After Passover we cleaned the manure from the cowshed and stable and brought it to the land we rented to use as fertilizer. My father ploughed the land and all the children and neighbors helped to sow the potatoes. Before Rosh Hashana the local farmwomen came to dig the potatoes. The children sorted them and filled the bags to carry home. While we were working, we would roast potatoes in the field to eat and have fun.
During the time, when my elder brother Jacob had grown up, he helped our father sell the crops, which they bought mainly from the crop traders in our village, and took it to sell at Baranovichi. On their way back they brought different merchandise for the village grocers. In the early thirties we closed the grocery store and built a fast food cafeteria mainly for the neighboring farmers. The whole family worked at the restaurant, at crop trade, and to supply merchandise for the grocers. We were all busy with work.
As time passed and I grew up, we became partners in the textile store with Berel Shmulovits, and I was appointed to run this store. Our family consisted of dad, mom, five brothers and two sisters, and each had their share of different work to support the family. But when the children were grown, each went their own way. The business became slow; only the restaurant and the textile store remained. My brother Jacob was drafted into the Polish army, my brother Nachum went to train to live in a Kibbutz and be prepared for Aliya (immigration to Israel), my brother Moshe studied in high school at Baranovichi, and the rest of the children remained at home. And so we arrive at September 1, 1939 the day WW II began.
According to the Ribenthrop-Molotov Pact, Maytchet fell under Russian occupation. Immediately when the Red army entered the village, it brought in the Soviet regime and the whole economic life that prevailed until it was abolished. The stores were empty of goods, some of it sold with no possibilty to renew it, and part of it was hidden not knowing what the future would bring. We were forced to trade with material to buy food. Life became hard, but slowly we managed by taking new jobs in the larger city of Baranovichi and started to adjust to our new life until the German and Russia war broke out in June of 1941.
The treacherous German attack on its former ally developed into a blitzkrieg and before anyone could pull them selves together from this situation, the Nazis entered the village and the troubles began. A police force was established from the local gentiles and also a Yudenrat (Jewish committee similar to a town council) was established, and the infamous German order before elimination was in place in the village with all it's might. Before long the Germans gathered two hundred boys and girls and sent on the pretext to work in the village of Burdykovschina. When they arrived there they all were shot down and killed, among them my brother Moshe and my cousin Chana Mare Orzechovsky. A few months later another few hundred youngsters were selected to be sent to a labor camp in Baranovichi among them my brother Abba and my husband David Rabets whom I had recently married. My young sister Chasha and I were left to live in my flat at the Rabets's house, and my parents with my brothers Jacob and Mordechai lived at their apartment, which was located in the house of Nechama Yatvicky.
So the days went on, the weeks and the months. From the neighborhood we heard rumors about ghettos, tortures and murders. But since there was no ghetto in Maytchet, the dreary life went on some how, and we prepared ourselves for any trouble that might come. With bribes the people succeeded in postponing the end and meanwhile they established a self-defense that included army veterans who organized it.
For their disposal were several old guns, that were hidden with Hayim Shelubsky, and they also dug a Sichron (hideout), to hide in due time. We also built a big sichron in our house, which was hard to find, and we waited to see what would happen.
One day an order arrived to the Yudenrat to recruit the Jews to dig holes for big fuel containers, that had to be placed at the Havoinik (hidden place in the woods) close to the Provoslav cemetary. Among the village Jews the opinions were divided at the meaning of the order. Some said, that these holes were not to be used for petrol tanks, but for burial of the Jews of Maytchet. But in any case they were obliged to dig the holes. A few days before July 1942, we received word that the Germans with the participation of the local farmers, had surrounded the village. The members of the self-defense arose immediately to action. They tried to break through the siege near the pharmacy of Dvorzecky toward the mountains on the way to Slonim, but the Germans opened fire and all the youngsters, twenty in number, were killed in this action, and among them my brother Jacob. One of them survived, Noah Mordkovsky who managed to escape and now lives in the U.S. On Rosh Chodesh Ab (June 1942) many troops surrounded the village and started to lead the Jews to the Havoinik. They moved from house to house, search and found hidden places and pulled out their victims to be killed, and so it lasted three days. My parents managed at first to hide in their hiding place, until one gentile, a pig trader, continued to search until he found them and brought them to the holes. My sister Chasha and I and the family of my husband David stayed in our hiding place, as did several others. At night we left the hiding place, crossed the swamp and the railway and ran away to the forests.
After the butchery in Maytchet a few Jews returned from the forests according to a false promise that nothing will happen to them, and of course all of them were caught and killed. Everyone who stayed in their hiding places went to the forest and decided that they will run away and hide separately. And so it was, my sister and I ran to the village of Midzbidzina and arrived at an acquaintance, a gentile named Bezerovski, who let us to hide in his attic. So we lived a few weeks, the gentile brought us food and at nights we even entered his house. To this place we heard the disaster that happened to the Jews of the village and among them all our family: Dad, Mom, brothers Jacob, Moshe, Mordechai, granddad (Asher) my uncles and aunts and their families were all dead. The only ones who survived were my husband David and his nephew Abba, who were in the Baranovichi ghetto. We thought about our situation and, with the consent of our host, we decide to be united. One day Bezerovski took his wagon and drove to Baranovichi to bring back David and Abba to us. They arrived at the Baranovichi ghetto and came to my aunt Rivka Sadovski's house and met David and Abba who were willing to join us. But since it was a day or two before Yom Kippur they decided to stay in Baranovichi until after Yom Kippur, for then the farmer will return to fetch them to his house. At the first day after Yom Kippur, which was on the Sabbath day the gentile came with his wagon as agreed, but he didn't find any one there, for at Yom Kippur all the Jews of Baranovichi were killed, among them the rest of our family.
So I stayed alone in the farmer's house until one day he said, that the fact that I'm staying there was known and the police and the gentiles are looking for me. That night I ran away to the nearest forest and after that I arrived to a farmer named Slavoi and was hidden at his house. One day I met Moshe Rabets and he told me, that in the Sbrotba forests there are around twenty Jews of our village. I started to wonder and search for them, for I was not able to bear the loneliness, and so I arrived finally to their hiding place and met Joshua Rabets, and the family of Moshe Rabets and others. I joined them and lived the hard life. At night we went out to the nearby villages to search food and the farmers gave it willingly. But this uncovered our existence, and one day in the hiding place they attacked us and they killed everybody. Miraculously Sarah Rabets (Kaplan) survived, she was wounded while running away but survived and now lives in the US.
When we heard about the butchery of the people in this hidden place, we felt no security in our hidden place and decided to leave it. At the same night we went away and without knowledge arrived in the Dvorets ghetto. We stayed there only one day and at night we went out very quietly from the ghetto and I continued to wander until I arrived at the village of Zapolia. There I found one farmer that knew our family and he agreed to hide me in his house. I stayed at this gentile's house in Zapolia for one month until I found out about a partisan organization in the area. I went out to the nearest forest to look for the partisans, and I met them and was accepted at the Otriad [partisan group] named after Ivan Grozni. I lived in this place and was active with the group for six months until the liberation in the summer of 1944.
Translated by Ron Rabinovitch These are some of my memories of Maytchet during the Holocaust period. In this town lived a grain merchant named Zimel Stolovitzky, a man with a long beard. At the last Aktion he survived with part of his family and they went to hide in the Horki Forest, about seven kilometers west of the town. The forest's area was approximately 200 hectares; two kilometers wide and in the interior were water and swamps. Among the agriculture villages that surrounded the forest were Beluzi, Flochva, and Horki. Zimel Stolovitzky had many acquaintances in these villages.
At the time of the mass murderers, he organized a group of the Maytchet Action survivors. There were about 60 people, including women and children, and they built a camp in the forest. They managed to buy weapons consisting of eight guns, twelve pistols, one machine gun and some hand grenades. Zimel Stolovitzky and his group also were able to buy food in the nearby villages.
At the end of August, 1942 I moved with my group near this area. We approached the camp quietly and about twenty meters from it we heard voices speaking in Yiddish. I told my friends that we found a group of Jews and we should approach carefully so as not to frighten them. When we came upon their place, the camp guards stopped us and asked for our identities. We told them that we were Jewish Partisans and we want to visit them. The chief of the camp, Zimel Stolovitzky, came out with a gun and a pistol and asked what we wanted and who we were. We repeated that we were Jewish Partisans and he then invited us into his camp. There we found acquaintances from Maytchet and we were very happy to see them. We remained in this camp for about two days.
At this time there was a conference of Jewish and Christians Partisans in the Horki Forest, in the area where Zimel's camp was. Zimel told us about the Nazis spies and murderers that took part in the Aktion in Maytchet and said he wanted to attend this conference. We went to speak with the head of the conference, who was the head commander of all the partisans in this area; he agreed to invite Zimel Stolovitzky and was eager to meet with him.
At their meeting, Zimel told the commander that there are groups of Nazis spies who claim to be partisans. Zimel asked the commander to investigate
to see if they are really partisans fighting against the Nazis. At the same time that Zimel spoke with the commander, two spies came to the camp. One of Zimel's group announced that they arrived and were harassing the women and shooting their guns into the air. Zimel asked the commander to help him take the weapons from the spies. The commander agreed and went to the camp with his staff and along with Zimel, they killed the two spies. Searching their pockets, they found certificates identifying them as Nazis policemen.
Two days later all the partisans left the area. Zimel Stolovitzky asked us to help supply his group with weapons. We managed to give him two guns and fifty bullets. In October, 1942 the Nazis attacked Zimel's camp in Horki forest. The Nazi regiment had tanks and hundreds of soldiers and they surrounded the forest, closing all the entrances and exists to the forest. They attacked the base where the sixty Jewish survivors from the Maytchet area were staying. The base was surrounded with bunkers and other defensive positions and the fighters of Zimel's camp fought valiantly for three hours. Unfortunately the group lost twelve people. Zimel Stolovitzky sent for help from other partisan groups, but when the Nazis realized that the partisans were coming, they ran away. The survivors moved to the Dvorets Ghetto.
When the partisans, including myself, came to help we found a burnt camp. Because this camp was at a centrally strategic junction for the partisan movement, we decided that we would remain here. The partisan commander said that there should be a memorial to the heroes that succeeded to push back the Nazis. He announced that Zimel Stolovitzky and others will be registered as heroes in the history of the partisans.
Translated by Jerrold Landau On September 17, 1939, the Russians entered the town and imposed their order, or more accurately, disrupted all of our protocols and plans. I was 15 ½ at the time when I was cut off from the nurturing source of nationalist Judaism, and I joined the Pioneer youth group. Of course, this was not for reasons of conscience, but rather to protect the peace of the home and the family before the authorities. I should point out that there was no direct pressure to do so, for the attitude of the authorities was reasonably liberal at first. Indeed, many of the youth did not join, and nobody protested.
It was not long before the first refugees began to arrive from German occupied western Poland, and were hosted in the Jewish houses of the city. A refugee was also hosted in our house. He told us of the decrees and the tribulations that hovered over the heads of Polish Jewry under the yoke of occupation. With the influence of his stories that shook the heart and soul, and with the news of the daring deeds of the youth of the kibbutzim who escaped to Vilna and prepared to go from there to the Land of Israel, the desire to be among them was aroused in me.
One evening, I met with my two friends, Nachum Rabinovitch and Moshe Kroshinski, in order to discuss practicalities. My female cousin came along with me. To my sorrow, this before the news of the impending Holocaust had penetrated the hearts of the parents, and we were forced to keep our actions secret. We decided to embark on the journey while there was still time, and we even set a time for our departure without informing the household of our plans.
Due to our strong connections with the gentiles of the region from the former times, I knew personally the director of the railway stationmaster in Mickiewicz, and I relied upon his help, that he would not ask superfluous questions. We furnished ourselves with food for several days and appropriate clothing for the journey, and we set out, attempting to the extent possible to appear as young students in order to avoid suspicion. I turned to the stationmaster and purchased three tickets to Lida, where there was a concentration of pioneering youth who were ready to steal across the border to free Lithuania.
When we got off the train in Lida, we fell right into a snare for the chalutzim, who had aroused the suspicion and ire of the authorities. We fled for our lives in order to hide until the wrath would pass. The three of us reached the house of a Jew at the edge of the city. When we saw a bearded Jew through the window, we dared to knock at the door and ask permission to enter. The family members were afraid of our appearance. After we told them
the purpose of our arrival, they had mercy on us and took us up to the oven to spend the night. When we got up in the morning, the Jew asked us to recite the Traveler's Prayer [tefillat haderech]. Even though they were poor, they provided us with food for the journey. We set out to search for the connection.
When we saw lads in leather jackets - which was one of the signs of recognition - exiting and entering one house exchanging secrets with each other, we knew that we had arrived at the right place. While we were still amazed at what was taking place, someone whom I immediately recognized as Berile, the director of the Shomer Hatzair youth camp in Mir, came out of the house. I approached him and asked him to help us with our affairs. He brought us into the house and turned us to Sheika Wiener, a member of the main defense and the central smuggling organization. However, instead of encouraging us, he spoke to us seriously about pushing off our plans to another time, because of the large number of chalutzim older than us who were knocking on the doors of aliya.
After we suffered this disappointment, we left the house, and I spoke seriously to my two friends about making the journey on our own, since my father's family had acquaintances in the border town of Turgal, and I hoped for their assistance. From Lida, we continued on to the Gavya station on the Lida-Vilna railway line, with the intention of continuing by foot along the railway tracks. When we got off the train in the town on the eve of the Sabbath, it was already dark, and we looked for a synagogue in which we could spend the night. In the darkness of the synagogue, we noticed a pile of wood that was prepared for lighting the oven. We lit the oven to warm up and fell asleep of exhaustion. Early in the morning, when the gentile came to light the oven, he saw us, became quite startled, and asked who we were. We told him something, left the place, and continued along our journey following the telephone lines, with a breathtaking snowstorm hammering at our faces.
After walking for several hours, someone passed by us. When he approached us, we recognized Berile. I was very glad to see him and attempted to turn to him, but, out of fear, he made as if he did not know me, and continued along his way. We also continued along our tortuous way until Turgal. There, I looked for and found one of the acquaintances of my father's household. He recognized immediately, and his first question was whether Father knows. When I responded in the affirmative, he took us in and fed us, and we spent the night.
The next day we surmised that there would not be a strict guard on Sunday, and we set out for the border. A kilometer away from the town, the telephone lines led into a forest, and we continued along until night fell. Suddenly we heard a whistle from the forest. We immediately lay down in the snow and waited for what would happen. A group of about 20 people who were speaking Yiddish amongst themselves came near us. We realized that these were the chalutzim who were headed for the border. We joined them without them realizing this in the darkness of the night. As we approached the border, a gentile came from the other side to receive us at the agreed place. He counted the people in order to receive his fee per head, and he found three additional people. To our good fortune, Sheika Wiener was in the group. He rescued us from our predicament and we crossed the border to Eisiskes in peace. From here, we were taken by
bus to Vilna, to the chalutz gathering center on Subacz Street. There we met the brothers of my two fellow travelers, Berl Kroshinski and Reuven Rabinovitch. There were other Maytcheters, including: Chana Boretcky, Vichna Belski, Moshe Vilkomirski, Itche Movshovitz, and others.
After several days, the people divided up by party stream, and we were transferred to the Hashomer Hatzair Kibbutz on Jagilonska Street. The three of us joined the youth of our age. We were about 20 people in total. There, groups to study Hebrew were organized for us, and in the spring, they set up for us a vegetable garden on leased land, that served as a source of livelihood and of training. I recall a general meeting that took place one evening in which about 600 people participated, in order to bid farewell to some members before they set out for the area of occupied Poland in order to organize the movement anew. Among those who set out were Mordechai Anielewicz, Yosef Kaplan, Chaika Grossman, and a Polish girl named Irina from among the command of the Polish scouts in Warsaw. She had lived in Vilna as a refugee and collaborated with Hashomer Hatzair.
Thus, we lived and worked there for two months in preparation for making aliya. During that time, the Lithuanian authorities moved from a position of sympathizing to a position of direct cooperation with the Communist guard, and they began to track our steps. That was the time of the war with Finland. The British government sent clothes to Finland, but somehow, those clothes reached us, and we dressed up in blue uniforms as students. After the final annexation of Lithuania, we dispersed to smaller groups in private rented houses. Due to the expected and unexpected dangers, the time came to work urgently toward aliya.
It was preferred that all of the youths born after 1923 would travel as part of the Youth Aliya, including the students who were of age, we three among them. Indeed, we received a directive from the Land of Israel Center in Kovno to prepare for the journey. We went to the Interior Ministry in Kovno to obtain our travel certificates. Once the exit date was set, we returned to Vilna. On the designated day, we went to the train station and joined the caravan of those making aliya, setting out for Moscow in order to obtain student visas for Turkey. There, we stayed at the Moskovski Hotel. Immediately after obtaining our Turkish visas, we set out via Kiev to Odessa, in order to board the Sapantia ship.
Our plan finally was realized, and we arrived safely in the Land of Israel. There, we were divided up to various Kibbutzim, and I ended up in Kibbutz Ein-Hashofet. From there I joined Kibbutz Lehavot. At first I enlisted in the Palmach, but when news of the Holocaust reached us, I enlisted in the Jewish Brigade and arrived in Europe, where I found two female cousins in the camps who had arrived from Russia. During the time I served in the brigade, I was involved in saving and smuggling efforts. When I returned from the army, I entered into the period of the disturbances prior to the establishment of the State. I served in the Hanegev unit of the Palmach.
Translated by Ron Rabinovitch In 1929, when I was a 3rd grade student in our Tarbut school, I became involved with the Hashomer Hatzair movement along with Moshe Vilkomirski and Chanan Zukovitzki. We were all nine years old. The commander of the youth movement in our area was Nachum Gilrovitz and the head of our group was David Bass. As school vacation was over, our first public activity with the school and the movement was to stage a protest at the big synagogue against the bloody riots in Israel in 1929. Our second activity, which remained engraved in my memory, took place during the 18th Zionist Congress when we were included in the distribution of Shkalim and general activities to support Eretz Yisrael. Also, at home, there was a Zionist atmosphere such as contributing to the National Funds, which was enough to charm a young boy whose goal was to realize the Zionist dream.
In 1933, I completed the 7th grade of school and was still involved with every program and activity to promote The Redemption. During the Passover of 1939, I went to Rovno to prepare with Channa Boretsky. There were other Maytchet folks, including Moshe Vilkomirski, Isaac Movshovitz, Vichne Belski, Beryl Kroshinski, Channan Zukovitzki and Reuven Bitenski. At Rovno we lived in the Kibbutz-house and worked in factories, mills, sawmills, etc. The women did housework. The war found us there.
I had a piece of luck and at that time I became sick and could not recuperate under the conditions at the Kibbutz, so I had to return home after few days when the roads were difficult, just five days before the Russian occupation. Of course nobody knew about the Russian-German agreement and they were only worried about the Germans coming closer and talked about escaping into Russia. Meanwhile, on Sep 17th 1939, the Russians unexpectedly entered the area and all our plans changed. At that time our friend Moshe Vilkomirski returned from Rovno and told us that the kibbutz was going to disperse because of the situation. After we received messages that Vilna was going to be a part of independent Lithuania, I went to Vilna with Vilkomirski to check on the possibilities there. The situation was not so clear and there was turmoil, especially in our people's groups. So Moshe Vilkomirski stayed there and I returned to the Kibbutz in Rovno to tell them about the situation and to advise them to move to Vilna as quickly as possible.
On the way from Vilna to Rovno I stopped at my home in Maytchet for a few days. Vichna Belski came with me and when we returned to Rovno, we were divided into small groups in order to move to Vilna. On the way back from Rovno I stopped again in Maytchet to take the supplies necessary for the long journey. As the teenagers heard about my coming and that I was going to Vilna,
they came to talk to me, but most of them didn't accept our plans. Their opinions didn't turn me from my decision and I went to Lithuania, to a transit center. As one of a group of 20 people we went through Eshishuk on the night of Yom Kippur and crossed the border where group leaders from both sides helped us. It is worth mentioning that during the first weeks the Russians and the Lithuanians chose to ignore what we were doing and gave us the chance to do what we had to do. The Lithuanians even helped us, but they wanted to do it without publicity. At night we arrived at Eshishuk and the first thing in the morning we transferred to Vilna by trucks and went to the Kibbutz's absorption center on Sobatac Street.
After a few days all the Kibbutz's movements began to organized on their own and our movement, Hashomer Hatzair, was established on Tartaki Street. We stayed in Vilna for three months in readiness and, at the beginning of March, 1940, we moved to Vilkomir (currently Ukmerge) inside Lithuania, were the local Jewish community accepted us with much warmth and extended a brotherly helping hand. There we organized as an independent kibbutz and worked, even though the Lithuanian law forbid refugees from working.
In June and July 1940, the Russians feared the Germans would enter the area, so they joined the Baltic states to the Soviet Union. Our kibbutz remained until the end of the year, but then, after some friendly hints from the local citizens, we divided into small groups and lived in private houses for more then six months. After complete annexation of the area to Russia, it was possible to reconnect with our home after being cut off for more then a year. But our activities stopped because we had to be very careful. No one could travel abroad and certificates were only available to a few people. Only the Youth Aliyah organization (Aliyat Hano'ar) was permitted as a special program. In this program there were just three younger men from Maytchet my brother Nachum Rabinowicz, Benjamin Stolovitzki, and Moshe Kroshinski who traveled via Moscow to Odessa on the ship Svetlana.
As the connection with home was created again, my family came to meet us and to see our departure. We sometimes went home, but in secret ways. We were afraid of the consequences, so we met them in Baranovichi. The last visit of my father to see me in Lithuania was a few days before the onset of the German-Russian war. When the war started we again took up the nomad's staff and fled with nothing on us to Dvinsk, the only route into Russia. We walked a hundred kilometers to the Lithuanian/Russian border. The Germans bombed all the roads in front of us so we went through the forests until we arrived at the Russian border. There we took the train to Saratov, Russia on the way to the Persian border, in central Asia.
Near Samarkan we organized again into groups. There we learned the fate of our friends who disappeared and we met with some of them. In this place we were together and worked for the next four years. At the end of the war we returned to Poland where we kept busy with Aliya Bet activities till 1950 when we finally arrived in Israel.
Translated by Ginny Gilbert
This happened on a Wednesday morningRosh Chodesh Av. Tuesday at 1:00 a.m., we already saw that we were encircled by the murderers. We understood that bad fortune had arrived, so we went into the hiding place that we had earlier preparedmyself with my three children, Zlate with her three children. My husband, Velvel, shut us in and went into Yeshihe's unfinished house where my mother and another woman, a bazshenke, were also hidden. (This term refers to a Jew who ran from their home in Western Poland or Germany eastward to flee from the Germans. Many were in Maytchet and surrounding towns being sheltered by the people there when the Germans ultimately caught up with them.) In the morning they found my mother and the woman and they led them to the graves.
But they did not find Velvel, and as soon as it got dark he went to the home of a Christian acquaintance and hid there.
We sat in our hiding place until 4 o'clock in the afternoon on Friday, when the gentiles found us. They came looking for our belongings under the floor and when they saw us they got scared. They were Sergevitcher and Palenker, gentiles who dealt with my father and bought from me in the store, so they let us run. We went over the line and the lake. We were afraid of fleeing together so we separated. Zlate took her children, and I took mine, and we went into the woods. It didn't take a half hour before we heard them shooting in the woods. I gathered the children and ordered them to lie still and not move. When the shooting ended, a boy, a bazshenets who used to know Chatzkel, approached us. He gave the children bread and a green onion which made them happy.
The boy and I separated. He went to Medredzhine (a small town near Maytchet), and the children and I went to the home of our Christian acquaintance where we found Velvel and Chenia Shmulovits. Our joy was indescribable, because he thought they had finished us off, and I thought he was no longer alive. We spent 6 weeks in a dog house, but all of a sudden it became very risky because the murderers started searching every house. The Christian woman could not keep us in hiding any longer, and at midnight in a heavy rain we went into the Swarotwa forest.
We wandered around for 2 weeks under the open sky, and when it got cold we gathered together in a dugout ringed with pieces of wood. When more people arrived, we made another dugout, in which were my brother Selig and his little daughter (his wife and two sons had perished), my brother Hirshel with his wife and three children, Yudie the carpenter and his family, Bunya Gilerovits and my nephew Chaim, and Minnie and two children. We stayed for several months until there arrived from Baranovichi Chaim Novomisky and another couple of Jews, who didn't notice the forest was encircled. The murderers let them
go and followed them, and as soon as they went into a shelter, they shot them. I went out a while to see where they were, and immediately a shot hit me and I fell. They thought I was dead, so they threw me off the hill, and I felt nothing and heard nothing. The surrounding gentiles offered their help, and together they murdered all the hidden Jews. Yulek came to me, and seeing that I was still alive, he and his son took me and put me in a potato hole.
At night they took me into the house, washed my wounds and bandaged them. I begged them to take me to the woods, but Yulek thought that maybe Velvel and the children fled and found themselves with the same Christian. At night he took me there, but I found no one there. Since I was left alone and could not stand on my feet, I wanted to go to Dvorets but they were afraid. For thirteen weeks I stayed with the Christian, who kept me in a cold corridor. When I realized I could not remain there because they were hunting in the vicinity, I pleaded for them to cut my foot and take out the bullet that was embedded there so that I would be able to leave. She asked a person who was a feldsher (a field surgeon), who performed the operation, and my feet started to heal.
One night when I was lying in the corridor, some partisans came in and found me. They ordered me to stand with my face to the wall and put a gun against me to shoot me. The Christian stood up for me, arguing that the Jewish partisans would take vengeance for me and it would be better that they should leave me alone. Another night I again heard knocks on the door. I thought the partisans had returned to finish me off, but it was Chenia Shmulovits who came to get a salve that the Christian made for various sores and boils. My meeting with Chenia was very heart rending. We cried ourselves out about the great misfortune that we lost our loved ones. I told her that Chatskel was not far from here and we begged our Christian to bring him.
When Chatskel came, we discussed our lot and decided to dig a shelter in the ground not far from the house. But at night when they went out to dig the hole they realized that it would not be secure and we decided we would go where Chenia was.
That was a crawlspace under a floor in the house of a gentile Polish farmer by the name of Glatki, where there were seven men and one girl. After spending the night, we went to the owner and begged him to let us stay a couple of days until my wounds could heal. He agreed and treated us as a father would. We stayed 9-1/2 months. Then we had to leave, because in the village there was already some gossip that there were Jews at Glatki's house. We left the crawlspace and went into the woods where there were partisans.
The men were accepted by the partisans, and the bezhenkegirl and I were left in the woods with more women and a few men. I went with Cheykel into a bunker where we saw a girl sick with typhus. She lay in a plank cot and could not move. Her mother had died a few days earlier, and there was no one to help her. Cheykel and I took her down, washed her, and put a clean shirt that I had on her. Day by day she got better. But as a result of this, I became ill with typhus and lay for three weeks on the cot with no help. But from trouble one does not die. I lived through this, my fever left, but I could not stand on my feet due to weakness.
In the meantime we were informed that the murderers knew where we were, and they were going to encircle the woods. As soon as it became light we heard shots being fired. All who could walk left the woods, but I could not and I remained. This went on for 5 daysin the morning they would leave and in the evening they returned. One morning we learned the murderers were planning to enter the woods. Everyone ran from the woods. They saw a group of riders whom they took for partisans who were also running to hide. But these were the murdering policemen who killed everyone except a very few who managed to be saved. I went out of the mud hut and leaning on a stick, I went a little further and at night I returned to the mud hut. I began to search for a way out of the woods because I was afraid that when they found me, they would torture me so I would tell where they might find more Jews.
When I went out of the woods, I met Abraham Kaplan and his daughter and son, but they ran very fast and I could not keep up. As I was slowly walking alone,
not knowing where, I heard shots from all sides. I lay with my face down so I would not see the murderers. I don't know how it happened, but the murderers passed and did not see me. I lay there until dark and noticed a house in the distance, so with all my strength I managed to get there and go in. Standing there was a young woman cooking food. I begged her to give me something to eat and let me warm up. She said her husband would soon arrive. A gentile with an axe showed up almost immediately, and I thought that this was my end. He took pity on me, however, and ordered that I be given food. Then he told me to get up on the warm stove and piled wood all around me.
In the morning the gentile went into the woods looking for Jews or Partisans. When he returned, I pleaded with him to return me to the woods. He took an axe as though he was going into the woods. He went ahead and I followed him from afar. En route he warned me not to look into the ravine because there were all the murdered Jews. And truthfully, when I went by I was horrified, seeing the unfortunate murdered people. On the other hand, I envied them that they were no longer there and I have still to suffer. On arriving at the bunkers I found no one, and the gentile with the axe immediately turned back home.
When it became dark, about 30 people slowly appeared. During the day we went and hid in lime holes and at night we returned to the mud huts. This lasted for 3 weeks, until we got exhausted and decided not to return to the lime holes. We gathered a little flour and went to the second bunker to bake a loaf of bread. When we returned with the bread we saw a sled with people go by. We became frightened and ran to the side. When we finally came into the bunker, I was told that Sholom Romanovsky came with several partisans to take me with him into the woods where his detachment was. I went with them, and in a few days the murderers arrived in the woods, encircled the bunker in which I previously stayed, and murdered everyone there.
After 5 days and 5 nights, we came to the detachment where I found Freidel Margolin. Several days later they took me to Bielski's detachment,
where I found many Jews; among them some acquaintancesZelda (Gilerovitz) and Litman (Litaworsky), Yosef Shmulovits, Chaya-Esther Kaplan, and her father and brother. Several days later Maier Lozovsky, Sholom Zhuchovitch, and Chenia arrived from Kozlitsheve. They made a mud hut and took me in. We were there for some time together. After that, Litman and Zelda made a mud hut for themselves and took me in.
It became a little easier for me to carry on with my unfortunate life when I found myself among friends. After being with Litman and Zelda for 3 months, we learned that the murderers retreated and ran into the woods. Each day we were ready for important happenings. In a short time we went out of the woods, but to tell the truth, we didn't want to go out to see the destruction, and not to have anyone to come to on this cursed earth into which the innocent blood of our loved and dearest ones was soaked.
Translated by Sara Mages At the beginning of 1942, a Jewish resistance group was organized in the village of Mednevich near Molchadz [Maytshet], the place of residence of the Chaneles family. Among the members were: Abrasza Chaneles (son of Yakov), Abrasza Chaneles (son of Baruch), Meir Chaneles, and their friends Yitzchak Lachowicki and David Rabets. Two months later, the group was discovered and the police inspector Walya Aolasik and the police secretary arrived unexpectedly from Haradzets to arrest them. A battle developed between them, Yitzchak Lachowicki was captured by the police, and Abrasza Chaneles (son of Baruch) was seriously injured and later died from his wounds because the Nazis didn't allow the Jews to receive medical help. Yitzchak was imprisoned in Maytchet's jail, and sentenced him to death. Feigale Boretcky and Chanale Belski, two young women from Maytchet who were connected to the resistance, worked at the Nazi police station. One day they learned that Yitzchak Lachowicki will be transferred to Haradzets where his sentence will be carried out, and they informed the resistance members. Abrasza Chaneles, who was friendly with Volodya Yortchek the head of the village of Stantsiya, came to Yitzchak's aid. On the day that Yitzchak was transferred under heavy guard through the village of Stantsiya, Volodya welcomed them and invited them for drinks and refreshments. He served them alcoholic beverages until they got drunk and fell asleep. Then, Meir and Abrasza entered and removed parts from the guns to disable them. At the same time other members, who were equipped with pistols and hand-grenades, stood on guard. When the policemen awoke from their drunkenness they didn't notice the missing parts, and continued on their way to Haradzets. However, on the way Lachowicki managed to slip from the guards and escaped.
He returned to the resistance group which continued its operations with greater vigor. After the aktzia in Maytchet we organized a partisan group in the Svorotva forest, and inducted Moshe Ravetz, Freidel Margolin, Konya Shlovski, Hanya Shmulovits, Mordechai-Leib Shmulovits, Abrasza Lublinski and Yehusua Zlotnick to our ranks. We established a relation with Russian partisans and they issued an order to increase our squad to 25 members. We reached this number very quickly, and started to take care of the weapons that we received from the residents of the villages, voluntarily or by force. When we became a considerable striking force, we received orders to sabotage railroad tracks, roads, police stations etc. We also carried out orders to obtain medical drugs that were greatly needed for the healing of wounds. Yitzchak Lachovitsky revealed a special expertise in this field because his father had a pharmacy and he knew where to look.
After the aktzia in Maytchet about 45 of Maytchet's survivors gathered in the Svorotva forest. They established two bunkers and settled there. It was at the beginning of the winter of 1943. At the same time, partisans came from Yavorskaya Ruda to collect food in the villages around Svorotva. One of the Gentiles informed the police, and when they chased the partisans through the forest they discovered one of the survivors' bunkers. It contained about thirty survivors including six who escaped from Baranowicze Ghetto. A bloody battle developed, and when it ended all the residents of the bunker were killed. Only one woman, who was outside, was saved from death. She managed to escape and hid with a Christian acquaintance who kept her until the Germans began to withdraw. Later, she moved with the help of Jewish partisans to the Bielski partisan detachment, and she continued to operate there until liberation. She was Tsira Rabets who now lives in the USA.
Abrasza Chaneles was one of the most active members of our group. He, Yitzchak Lachovitsky and Konya Shlovski were responsible for the supplies. They went to the villages near the forest and brought food and weapons that were necessary for our existence. Abrasza knew the environment and the residents well. He even knew which one of them had a weapon, and took it willingly or by force. Thanks to this small group of courageous men we were able to endure and continue our struggle for life until the search and the discovery of one of the bunkers. The members of the second bunker moved to Dvorets and joined a labor camp under the command of a German engineer, who allowed them freedom of movement to find food and the like. Among those who moved to the labor camp were Freidel Margolin, my sister Zlata Kaplan with her children, and others. A short time later the labor camp was liquidated and they were killed. Only a few of them managed to escape.
I and another young man by the name of Efraim Dobkowski were among those who were in the second bunker that wasn't discovered by the Germans. We didn't go with the other members of this bunker go the labor camp in Dvorets. We stayed and waited for the partisans who caused the search in the forest that ended with the discovery and the liquidation of the first bunker. They traveled with two food carts to their camp.
When we joined them they gave us a gun with bullets, and told us to walk half a kilometer ahead of them and report on any German movement. We arrived safely to their camp, but immediately afterwards a large German force, which was especially taken from the front, arrived to fight against the large number of partisans in Yavorskaya Ruda. A great battle ensued and all the partisans in the area participated in it. The commander of one of the detachments was a Jew by the name of Dr. Atlas who was wounded in this battle and died. The battle lasted three days and ended in a stalemate.
Since the partisans weren't prepared yet for combat operations, only for sabotage and escape, the headquarters decided to divide the forces into groups of twenty, who operated according to central orders, but received the maximum freedom to initiate and carry out their operations. Abrasza Chaneles and another refugee from Maytchet returned to the vicinity of Maytchet. We joined a local partisan detachment and operated with them. We performed all sorts of acts of sabotage on railway tracks, roads and bridges. We initiated attacks on German camps and police stations that were located in the villages, destroyed them and took their weapons.
We, especially Abrasza who excelled in fulfilling the orders assigned to him, received the appreciation of our commanders for our successful operations.
We parted soon after, Abrasza remained in the Grozny detachment, and I was transferred to the headquarters of the Pervomaiskaya brigade and served as quartermaster. After liberation I arrived to Baranowicze and from there I visited Maytchet, which was occupied by the Gentiles, and walked to Minsk. In 1946 I learned that I could immigrate to Israel. I moved to £ód and from there to Szczecin and then to Berlin. I arrived to Marseille from the American sector [of Berlin], and immigrated in the illegal immigrant ship Latrun to Cyprus. After a year stay in Cyprus I arrived to Israel. Also Abrasza Chaneles wandered some distance and arrived to Israel to built and be built in it.
Translated by Semadar Siegel We lived in the village of Ivashkovtsy (Ivankovitz), 10 km. from Molchad, which, for us, was the community, economic and Jewish cultural center. When the war broke out in 1939, the Russians occupied the area. Our parents stayed in the village and the children moved to Baranovichi because there was no future for Jews in the village.
On June 22, 1941, when the Nazis launched their invasion into Russia, we returned to the village to get our parents and escape with the Russians. But the Nazis advanced so fast that we had no time to escape. So we stayed in the village until 1942. Amongst us was the family of Mordechai Lev, his single brother Yehuda and his sister Masha. The family of Alter and Miriam Gorski, two sons and a daughter, and a few other refugees from Poland joined us.
In February, 1942 the Nazis gathered all the Jews from the surrounding villages into the village of Novaya Mysh (Mush), which was near Baranovichi. On Saturday 19 Tamuz 5702 (July 7, 1942) they took all the Jews, including the 1200 inhabitants, out of the town. They shot them and buried all of them in one mass grave, which had been prepared in advance. Very few escaped this action and for five months they continued to live in Novaya Mysh (Mush).
The Gorskis--my father, my brother Tuvia and I were sent in a group of 10 people to a work camp. We were sent to Peskovtsy, 10 km. from Molchad in order to work in the fields. We worked for six months on the farm and conditions were not too bad. We had food and good relations with the gentiles.
When rumors came about the action in Molchad, the gentiles urged us to escape from the area because our end was close. Only July 16, 1942 we escaped to the forest in Lyushnevo, in the area of Slonim. There were 20 workers from Molchad on the farm near Lyushnevo. The day after our escape from Peskovtsy they gathered all the Jews from Lyushnevo and took them to Baranovichi. On the way, a few escaped from the truck and survived. Ten of the people who escaped from Peskovtsy stayed in the forest for a whole week and later everyone went on their own way. That is how my father, my brother and I survived.
We wandered in the forest until winter. We never stayed at night where we were during the day so we would not get caught. Just before winter we built two underground shelters. But father was very weak and depressed because of his wife and sister-in-law's death. He did not have the strength to go out of the shelter. The children were the ones
to go out and beg for food from the gentiles.
Yan Rutzki from Peskovtsy was a wonderful Polish person who treated us with respect and acted humanely towards us. There was one gentile who informed on him to the Nazis. The Nazis beat him 29 times and warned him that if Tuvia Gorski comes again he has to bring him to them. In the beginning we did not go to his house although he asked us the come and also offered to dig us an underground shelter in his house so that we should not endanger ourselves by walking to him. In the meantime my father died on February 26, 1943 and the Polish person continued helping us like a righteous gentile.
The day we went into the underground shelter and also just before he died, our father requested that we bury him on his land. Then if Mordechai (Mottle) Gorski, who was drafted in the Russian army, returns, he would know where to find his father's grave. He also asked us to prepare shrouds from his clothing by removing the buttons, take one tzitzei from his tallis, wrap him in his tallis, and put him in the grave with his feet first according to Jewish Law.
After my father died we met with some partisans but they refused to take us in because we had no ammunition. So we continued wandering in the forest until the liberation. We heard shooting of the war nearby and we saw the Nazis retreating. On July 9, 1944 we went out of the forest to Ivashkovtsy (Ivankovitz) to see our house, which was occupied by refugees, and we then walked to Yank. Tuvia was drafted into the army and I stayed in Baranovichi. After the liberation, Yank Rutzki continued helping us and brought us food. When I left for Israel I separated from him in a very warm way.
Tuvia Gorski was wounded in a battle near Kaliningrad (Koenigsberg). After he came out of the hospital he was released from the army because of his injuries and he went to Gorki to his brother. From there he went to Baranovichi and on to Israel via Poland and Germany in 1949. Mordechai Gorski went on a leave and never returned to the army and arrived in Israel at the end of 1948.
Translated by Sara Mages These lines were written on the 22nd Independence Day of the State of Israel, and more than half a century after the event (one of many) that fell in my lot. The beginning of the story is in the fall of 1942. Our group, which included about twenty young Jewish men and women, were among those who fled on the day of the mass killings in Maytchet (1 Menachem Av 5702 - 15 July 1942) from two workplaces in the nearby villages. The group settled in one of the remote forests, about 30 kilometers from the town.
At that time, we were already armed and some of us even had Russian automatic weapons. We obtained them from the local farmers who collected them after the Red Army retreated from the Germans. Moreover, within a few months (since mid-July 1942) we successfully completed the process of organization and became a fighting unit with a recognized standing in the area. Since the unit commander and his deputy, and especially their families, were known in the area for a many years, a sympathetic atmosphere was created around them (and around the group) among the local population. It enabled us to establish an intelligence network, which served as a fertile ground for creating legends about our great strength. Needless to say, that we haven't done anything on our part to deny them, on the contrary, we contributed quite a lot with special operations to nourish them.
I deliberately skip over the group's history until then, and about its actions in rescuing Jews (from Dvorets Ghetto and other locations), and mention, that our group's name reached one of the illustrious Russian partisan regiments in the area (named after Zolotov). The commander of this regiment, who was in the rank of a major, invited us to participate in an extensive raid on Maytchet. He had an impressive appearance and a memorable beauty. He was a legendary figure of a commander and friend. To this day I believe, that he was a descendant of the glorious Jewry of Russia (later he fell in one of the partisans battles). One way or another, may his memory be blessed.
With enthusiasm and tremendous elation we accepted the long awaited invitation on the spot. Although we had hoped for it, we didn't believe that the time for revenge really arrived. We moved swiftly and swallowed kilometers towards the goal. At twilight, and before the sun went down, the city was surrounded, almost unnoticed, by the entire invading force. We were stationed on the road leading from the train station, about a bowshot from the mass graves.
We were given the task to eliminate any opposition to the invasion of the town and capture the head of the council (Voight), who stole the property and the souls of Maytchet's Jews. My good inclination force me to mention in this place, that before the battle began, the battalion commander galloped alone on his horse near the police outpost, which in addition to the local police was also manned by the Germans. He stunned the enemy with his courage to such extent, that the soldiers forgot to activate their weapons, and when they did, fortunately for us, it was too late for them. The action of a single man constituted, from lack of choice, the softening which was customary before an assault. I'm convinced, then as now, that this conscious risk was the deciding factor in breaking the moral of the soldiers in the outpost, who fled for their life when the battle intensified.
When the signal for the assault and the cleansing operation was given, our group was divided into two teams. One, under the command of the group's commander continued into the town, while the second team located the house of the head of the council. We surrounded it and called its inhabitants to get out. The residents of the house, who locked themselves behind lock and key, refused to get out. Even our warning, that we'll burn the house with its occupants, was in vain. After the farm's buildings (the cowshed and the barns) were set on fire and the house also caught on fire, its inhabitants started to shower fire at us with the few rifles that they had. Of course, the residents of the house risked their lives in this action, and we decided to carry out the verdict. However, we made sure that the animals and the chickens were able to escape from the fire. When the fire intensified, a few figures started to crawl out of the house. They, as we found out later, were hiding until then in the cellar. We shot those who came out to the light of the flames.
Surprisingly, the head of the council wasn't among those who came out, but it wasn't the only surprise. A shocked girl, about 4-5 years old, stood next to the bodies. She stared at us with eyes wide with fear and with a mute plea begged for her life. In a flash stood before my eyes hundreds of Jewish children that the hand of the reaper had no mercy on them, and their mute pleas and heartbreaking cries didn't help them. I haven't forgotten the knowledge that I acquired in my childhood, and Remember what Amalek did to you was still one of the verses that I've used. Nevertheless, I knew that I wasn't going to kill the girl. While wondering about the matter, my ear caught the sound of a gun being cocked behind me, and before I heard the thunder of a shot I held the gun barrel with my hand and raised it. When I turned my face to the girl, my eyes caught her look which inadvertently was engraved in my memory. A short time later we left the area leaving only smoking embers behind us.
Two years have passed. New operations have caused the heart to forget the previous ones, including the raid on the town of Maytchet. Far away, in the Naliboki forest, the partisan brigade, in which I served, merged with the advancing Red Army that defeated the Nazi beast. Under the recommendation of the brigade commander I remained in the rear to help with the renewal of the civil structure in the Baranowicze region. I decided to visit Maytchet, and for the first time I headed to my ancestors' graves and to the hill of death where those, who were more precious to me than my life, were buried together with
all of the town's Jews. The ground sank and the depression clearly marked the killing pits. I kissed the blood-soaked soil, and parted from those who dwelled in it while making an oath that I would leave, as soon as possible, the bloody country and the murderers who reside in it. On my way back I went to the town center that its appearance was totally different. Except for me there wasn't a single Jewish soul. Since I never had ties with the local Gentiles or with the Russian refugees that were brought by the Germans, I decided to leave the town without a delay.
My feet stood next to the cantor's house (one of the houses that remained intact), and without intending to do so I found myself stepping on its threshold. A Gentile, with an accent from central Russia, greeted me. I sat on a chair totally exhausted from all that my eyes have seen in the last few hours. The occupant of the house told me that he was a refugee from Smolensk, and that he lived in the house since his house was destroyed in the war. He asked me if it was my family's home. I said no, and for no reason I told him who were the previous occupants of the house. Before I finished my words my eyes caught the face of a girl about seven years old. She stared wide-eyed at my face and at my weapon. From oblivion suddenly emerged and stood before me the image of the girl from the burnt house of the head of the council. Something in the girl's strange look reminded me the other girl and the whole incident. A few moments later I asked the homeowner if she was his daughter. Much to my surprise, I was answered negatively. This and more, he declared that she wasn't even related to him. When his words aroused my curiosity (because for a moment I thought that she was a Jewish girl) and probably also his fears, he told me the following story:
It was so - as I've been told, two years ago a Jewish partisan group raided the house of her father who served as the head of the council during the German occupation, and killed her entire family. By unexplainable miracle only the girl survived. Her mother, brothers, uncle and aunt were shot to death, and her father suffocated in the cellar where he hid from the partisans who besieged his house and set it on fire. At dawn, the girl, who was feverish and shocked from the events of the previous night, was taken in by the neighbors. The townspeople fed the girl and alternately took care of her until I arrived to the place. Being childless I expressed my will to adopt her - a matter that was made possible to me. Since I know her, this girl is staring with penetrating eyes at every man who carries a weapon, as if she was looking for someone of something.
Even before the refugee finished his words, I, without saying a word, got to my feet that carried me far away from this house. I never returned to Maytchet, the town that so many of the fibers of my being are connected to.
Translated by Sara Mages The story begins with the Pololich's affair. At first, he had the reputation of a liberal who sympathized with the Jews, but eventually he changed his mind, became a persecutor of the Jews and killed many of them, and the story was as follows, -
Volodya Pololich, from the small town of Svorotva, studied tailoring in Maytchet with Moshe Savitzki. He was considered to be a liberal and was involved with the Jews and the Christians. Later on he moved to Slonim to study cutting. When he returned to Maytchet he opened a workshop at the home of Michel Shmulovitz. He was welcomed in this home because of his liberal views and felt as a family member. After a while, he married a local Christian woman, moved elsewhere, opened a larger workshop and wrote on the sign: A Christian Enterprise, according to the spirit
of the times in Poland. This went on until 1939. When the Red Army entered, he became active in the Communist Party and hoped to get one of the party's positions. The party activists gathered at a meeting and submitted his candidacy for election. And here, one of the Jewish communists stood up and testified that he wrote on his sign: For Christians only, and consequently he wasn't elected. Pololich withdrew from a political career for a short time, returned to Svorotva and kept the matter in his heart.
When the Germans entered to the region they planned a geopolitical plan, according to which, the area of Belarus will be disconnected from Poland and would receive political independence. By doing so the Germans hoped to draw the citizens to their side. An Urban Initiative Committee was also founded in Maytchet, and its members were: the local priest, Donik Kutzko, Pololich and others. Here, the debt owner was given the opportunity to collect his debt, and he started to conspire against the Jews of Maytchet. He prepared a list of 18 Jews, noted next to their names: communist, anarchist, crazy, etc., and all of them were executed in Horodetz. He immediately prepared a second list of 22 Jews, and went from house to house demanding ransom, but at the end all of them were executed. Only one of them, Moshe Belski, escaped from his hands, but he later perished among the partisans. When the Judenrat [Jewish council] was established in Maytchet, its chairmen, Erlich and Leibel Gilrovitz, reported Pololich's communist deeds to the German commissioner in Baranovichi. The Germans gave him the death penalty and also prepared the gallows in Maytchet, but his Christian friends smuggled him at night. He hid in the woods until the partisans organized themselves, and he joined them. And now we'll return to the story about the partisans, fighters and avengers, -
At the outbreak of the war, and after the Russians arrival to the area, I was sent to work in Volozhin. When the war was renewed in June 1941, I fled to Russia with the Soviet Army, but the Germans cut our way and I remained near the Berezina River. Given no choice, I headed back to Maytchet and it took me two weeks to get there. At that time, the ghetto was already in existence with a Judenrat and forced labor. The best youth was sent to work in Baranovichi, Koldichevo, Lesnaya, etc. After I worked for a short time in Lesnaya I returned with the whole group to Maytchet.
Here [in Maytchet], we were engaged in digging pits that the Germans claimed that they were designed for storing gasoline. We understood that it was not the case and looked for ways to escape from the town, but those who left didn't returned. We started to collect weapons. My friend, Vitya Kozobei, brought me a gun with fifty bullets. We felt that the massacre was approaching but there was nowhere to go. On the night before the liquidation, I, Reuven Bitenski, Noah Mordkovski and Meir Rabets lay in the field with the gun together with many others. At 4 o'clock in the morning we heard dogs barking and saw that the Germans encircled the town. Several of those who lay in the field tried to break the circle with gun shots, but most of them fell on the spot and only a few (10-12) escaped. I hid in a small dam in my uncle's house. Forty people hid there, but the Gentiles discovered us and handed us to the Germans. I left the cellar and jumped to the river. They shot after me, but I managed to escape to my friend Kozobei. There was another Jewish family there - Tzira Kaplan, her husband and their children.
We hid there for about two months. From time to time we left for the forest to search for Jews, and they told me that Pololich wanted to see me. I, Elkana Szelowski, Avraham Medlinski and others went to see him, and he brought us to the Zolotov detachment. They didn't accept us, but helped us to get organized and even gave us a commander by the name of Petke.
Elkana Szelowski, whose father was murdered by Pololich, couldn't restrain himself and told Zolotov about Pololich's past, but the commander told him that they need him during the war, and he will be brought to justice only after the war ended.
We got organized in a short period of time, and the following members joined us: Abrasza Chaneles, Meir Chaneles,Yitzchak Lachowicki, Zuchowitzky, David Stein, Melech Tzokrkaf, Meirim Borecky and others. We decided to carry out our first mission on Yom Kippur eve, but we were warned not to do any act of revenge in the town during our mission. On the next day we attacked the German post that guarded the railroad tracks, and destroyed it. Until now we were in the Svorotva forest. From there we moved to the Horki forest where we found a large group of armed Jews who were organized by Asher Shoshan. We also found several Jews from Maytchet who escaped from Dvorets Ghetto. Meanwhile, two partisans, who moved from another detachment, joined Petke and started to conspire against the Jewish survivors. In a secret council we decided to eliminate them, and Meir Chaneles and Lachowicki carried out the decision.
During my stay in the forest I learned the details about the fate of the bunker's occupants. After most of the people were discovered and murdered, my mother and the rest of my family survived. When they heard about Asher Shoshan and his group, they went to the village of Dokrovha to look for him. They knocked on a farmer's window and asked him about Shoshan. The Gentile captured them, handed them to the authorities, and they were executed. To scare the Gentiles, so they wouldn't continue to do such things, we decided to kill this farmer. We searched and found him, took him out of his house, and shot him. Abrasza Chaneles, Asher Shoshan, Litman, Litvavarski and others participated in this operation. We also burnt the granaries and houses of those who worked for the Germans until they were forced to flee to other locations. It was sort of an action against those who helped the Germans to punish the Gentiles who hid Jews.
In the course of time we moved to Natasha Pushcha [Natasha wild forest] to join the partisans who were located there. At that time the forest was surrounded by small tanks. We defended ourselves, to the best of our ability, to prevent the Germans from entering the forest, but it was in vain. They attacked us and killed ten men and women from the families that were in the forest. Under the cover of the night we retreated to the Svorotva forest. On the way, I met with my cousin Yosef Shmulovitz who was hiding in a Gentile's house. I knocked at the door and was offered to stay there. At first I refused and continued to the forest, but at the end I agreed and went back to him. A short time later I found my brother Moshe. Others also joined us, and again, we were a group of ten (winter of 1942). When spring arrived, I informed Abrasza Chaneles, who was able to join the Grozny detachment, to come and get me. He came, took me and Mordechai Leib Shmulovitz and we arrived to the Grozny detachment, that because of its size was divided into brigades.
I fought in the Pervomaiskaya brigade and participated in many operations. Our position was in the area between Maytchet, Horodysche and Karlitz. One day, the Germans decided to push us
into the forest and destroy us. For two days we fought valiantly on the banks of the Niemen River to prevent the Germans from entering the forest, but they broke in by the Polish partisans' position. We were forced to retreat to lake Kormen and separated into small groups. We entered the waist deep water, crossed the water barrier under the direction of Boris Grozny, and fled.
We were liberated on July 1944. Most of us were sent to the regular Red Army which continued with the war. I was sent to a Sovkhoz [Soviet farm] in Karlitz to work as an accountant. At the first opportunity I got to Maytchet and discovered that Pololich served as chairman of the local Soviet Council. Maytchet's survivors informed the persecutor about his real face, but his local friends threw the complaint to the trash. When Yosef Shmulovitz realized that Pololich wouldn't be brought to justice, he contacted the military prosecutor (a Jew), who promised to investigate the matter. An order was sent to arrest him and prosecute him, but his friends warned him, and he escaped to the forest where he organized a partisan unit against the Red Army. At that time he killed Yosef when he met him in the forest.
But the thief will come to a bad end. A Red Army detachment tracked him down and destroyed him and his men.
Translated by Sara Mages In the month of Tamuz 5700 (1940), on the eve of the establishment of the ghetto by the Nazis, may their names and memory be erased, I moved with my family from the city of Baranovichi to the town of Maytchet, where I was hoping to find shelter and salvation. Here, I joined my brother, R' Yitzchak Grtezikovitz, may the Lord avenge his blood, who managed the flour mill in the nearby village of Kozlovitz (7 km), and stayed at his home until the end of the holiday period. During that time, I looked for employment and worked in various jobs for the Christian population in the villages and the surrounding area. At the beginning of the winter, an order was issued by the occupation authorities that all the Jews who live in small villages, must move to cities and towns in which there was a concentrated Jewish community. A Jew wasn't allowed to live alone in his current place of residence - and I was forced to enter with my family into Maytchet's town limits. Like me, many refugees arrived and gathered in the town from various locations. The Jews of Maytchet, who excelled in their kindness, did everything they could to satisfy the refugees' needs. Teachers took the trouble to organize a heder [religious elementary school] for the tender children of the displaced, so they can continue their studies even in a period of rage and terror. From among the many kind figures I especially remember R' Berel Romanovski, a precious Jew with high intelligence who did good deeds. He gave his private home to the community council, to the public officials who acted on behalf of others. In this home I found a hiding place in middle of the winter, during the days when the Germans hunted men and took them out of their homes to work in the forest (in the last period, before the final liquidation). The occupants of the house hid me in the attic and took care of all my needs, and the women brought me food several times a day - and saved me from death.
It is amazing to note, that unlike other Jewish communities in occupied Poland, the Germans haven't established the public prison cell known as the ghetto, and for a long period of time the town's Jews didn't suffer from their abuse despite the establishment of a local police etc. In this respect, Maytchet was like a ship in the middle of the ocean. At that time, we, as religious Jews, attributed it to the young Rabbi of Stolevitch. A Tzadik Nistar, who later proved to be an exemplary person who protected the Jews of Maytchet during the days of the Holocaust. At that time, nothing, big or small, was done in Maytchet without his knowledge and guidance. Even Mr. Erlich, the chairman of the Judenrat who was appointed as Elder of the Jews by the occupiers, was constantly in contact with the Rabbi of Stolevitch. He always consulted him on how to behave and what to do (on the occasion of the publication of a new command by the Nazis, the imposing of ransom, etc.).
The rabbi of the village of Stolevitch was related to the Tzadik, Rabbi Yisrael-Meir from Radun, who was known all over the world as the author of Chofetz Chaim [Desirer of Life]. He was the rabbi of all of the Jews of Poland and Lita in the last generation. This rabbi was a Tzadik and a son of a Tzadik. His father, the former Rabbi of Stolevitch, was a great Torah scholar who also served, for a certain period of time, as the dean of Yeshivat Torat Chesed. The Yeshiva [Rabbinical College], which belonged to the Slonim Hassidic dynasty, was located in the nearby city of Baranovichi. He had the reputation of a miracle-maker, and many Jews were saved by him from trouble and distress. Later, when his son grew up and took his place, he also became famous as a miracle-maker, and many flocked to him from the surrounding towns to seek his advice and be blessed by him. His admirers believed in his power to perform miracles, knew for sure that the future lies open before him and the Holy Spirit excites his soul, as the Hassidim say: The Divine Presence speaks through his throat. And here's an episode that was preserved in my memory: Mr. Shevtzik, a man from Maytchet who ran a wholesale grocery store in Baranovichi, was among those who sought his advice. And here, six months before the outbreak of the world war, he came across a good deal. He planned to sell his grocery store and invest the money in the new business, but when he asked the Rabbi of Stolevitch for his consent, the rabbi rejected it and said: Should you eliminate a business and undermine the foundation of your income for only six months? Vague words. The torrent of bloodshed started exactly six months after that
After the Holocaust started he decided to save and protect all the Jews who lived in his area. He was especially concerned about the Jewish community in the nearby town of Maytchet. In his hometown Stolevitch - as in Maytchet - the Germans haven't established a ghetto and didn't bother the local Jews for a considerable period of time. The matter was a wonder in people's eyes because the town was located right by the main road, the highway leading to Baranovichi, and from the day the war started it was constantly bustling with the movement of military vehicles and the forces of the German occupying army. The Tzadik prayed non-stop for the wellbeing of his brothers. At night, he didn't turn on the light in his house and engaged in hidden matters. How can I turn on a light when the world is wrapped in terrible darkness, he said. More than once he expressed his amazement, how the sun can shine in days so bleak for humanity, how the heavenly bodies can illuminate the earth when beasts of prey, in the form of people, are running wild on it? When I was forced to leave the village and move to Maytchet, I saw the Tzadik in my dream and asked him what I should do. He encouraged me and said, The wicked don't have control on you, and so it was.
During the war, by the order of this Tzadik, the Jews of Maytchet organized shifts who read Psalms day and night. A Minyan prayed relentlessly in every street and every alleyway for salvation from the murderers. One day, when Mr. Erlich visited him, the Tzadik told him that he feels a hidden interference in his prayers for the wellbeing of Maytchet's Jews, and asked him to investigate the reason for this. When Mr. Erlich returned to the town, he talked with the community activists who dealt with mitzvoth. They started to search and explore until they found that one of the children of the refugees who came here wasn't circumcised,
and his father refuses to enter him into the covenant of Abraham Avinu. They immediately returned to the Tzadik, and he confirmed, that he meant it when he told to his people how to act under the current danger.
As long as the Rabbi of Stolevitch was alive, Maytchet and her Jews didn't fall into the hands of the oppressor. In the winter of 5702, he appeared in the dream of one of Maytchet's Jews and poured his bitter words: The defiled Gentiles plot against me, how can I leave you like sheep without a shepherd. A few days later, a large group of officers, dressed in SS uniform and armed with machine guns, arrived to Stolevitch. At first, they surrounded the house of the Tzadik and he was caught in their trap. They killed him a martyr's death. Immediately after, they annihilated all the Jews of Stolevitch to the last one.
And indeed, the written word took place: The righteous is taken away from before the evil [Isaiah 57:1]. The bitter and impetuous day of the glorious community of Maytchet arrived immediately after the assassination of the Holy Rabbi of Stolevitch. On a gloomy day, the murderers attacked the town, gathered all the Jewish residents, and selected from among them about 300 healthy young men who were expelled to the vicinity of Baranovichi. There, they were recruited together with the deportees from the city of Lida for the building of the forced labor camp in Koldichevo. They remained in the camp until they were liquidated. The remaining Jews, including the elderly, women and children, were taken to the nearby fields and were ordered to dig large pits that eventually served as their graves. On Rosh Hodesh Av, in the year 5702, the extinction knife was raised on them and the sound of their blood - the blood of brothers and sisters, boys and girls - emerges and shouts at us from the earth to this day.
We, the survivors, will remember our loved ones with trembling and awesome respect. We will remember what the Amalek of our generation did to us - Don't forget!
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