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[Page 231]

Testimony[*]

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

Yechiel Porochovnik was 17 in June 1941, when the Germans conquered parts of the Soviet Union. A son of a family of laborers, he helped his father, who was a wagon driver, support his family from an early age. He was a member of Young Pioneer in Radzivilov. He yearned to be sent for pioneer training and then to immigrate to Israel. The war interfered with his plans.

In the early years of the German occupation, his brother Avraham suffered terribly at the Ukrainian fascists' hands because he had been a Soviet operative. On his brother's grave, Yechiel swore to avenge his brother's spilled blood. Afterward, when his entire family was exterminated by the Germans, he saw only one goal ahead of him: vengeance.

During the Nazi occupation, Yechiel endured many agonies of the war against the Germans: hiding in bunkers, fighting with the partisans, surviving as a Jew alone in the forest and, after that, as a soldier in the Red Army. He never once laid down his weapons for any battle until he lost his right leg.

He was one of the first young people in the ghetto to try to organize armed resistance to the enemy. After the liquidation of the city's Jews, and after he had lost his family, he fled to Brody, and while hiding out in a bunker, he made connections with the partisans, recruited young people in the Brody ghetto, and then led them from the ghetto to the forest. He never went into battle alone; he always had followers who were armed and ready to defend the honor of the Jewish people and their redemption.

He was among the first young Jews to serve with the partisans in the area around Brody, and he took part in dangerous assaults on German and Ukrainian legions. Even when he was injured and laid up for six weeks with bullet wounds in his leg, he continued to send out communications to his comrades.

He was a member of a three–person partisan delegation sent to negotiate with Ukrainian Nationalist Division officers for a ceasefire so they wouldn't engage with each other.

Both the Germans and the Ukrainians were hindered significantly by him. In one successful operation that he organized, he got food and supplies to 40 Jews who were dying from starvation as they hid in a bunker in Brody.

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In their despair, they turned to him, and they saw their salvation in him. Afterward, when the bunker was uncovered by the Germans, he led some of them to the forest. On their way, they killed a few Germans.

It was his fate, so it seems, to suffer alone after his group of partisans was lost. He was armed, but he wandered in the forest by himself. The local murderous Ukrainians and Germans hunted him, and he killed one German who pursued him.

After he fell into the hands of the Soviet Red Army, he joined a Red Army division and fought with them as they liberated the region. For his courageous actions in the Red Army, he was awarded medals three times, all medals of the highest order: Red Banner, Red Star, and the order Slava First Class, as well as many other medals. He volunteered to lead a group of soldiers, all whom volunteered for a very difficult battle, and found himself face to face with the enemy. In the battle, he lost his right leg. Only then did he stop fighting, knowing that he had fulfilled his vow.

After the war concluded and he was decorated, he returned to Radzivilov. He waived his right to go to Poland under the repatriation law in order to track down the murderers of his family and of the city's Jews. After a diligent search, he found some and made accusations against them. A list of their names was sent to the NKVD, and only after they were sent for judgment did he move on.

In 1957, he acted on his second opportunity to leave Russia. He left with his Russian wife and two daughters, first for Poland and then for Israel.

Yechiel Porochovnik mentioned many of his comrades' names during his testimony. He shared many details of his wartime confrontation with the vicious enemy. He transmitted very important information on the Jews' role in the partisan movement and also on the Ukrainians' collaboration in the Radzivilov Jews' murder and on their liquidation.


Footnote

    *Note in original: From the Yad Vashem archives, transcribed by Mr. Y. Alperovich from the oral history of Mr. Yechiel Porochovnik. return


From the Memories of Yechiel Porochovnik

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

In my earliest years, I was taught first at cheder, then at the Tarbut school, and later at the Polish public school until the Polish–German war broke out in 1939.

My father, Yakov–Moshe Porochovnik, of blessed memory, worked at the flourmill in Radzivilov. He had a huge wagon and four or five horses. He used to haul sacks of flour from the mill to the warehouses owned by the merchants. My brother and I used to help my father with his work.

The young people of Radzivilov used to frequent Zionist youth clubs.

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I was a member of Young Pioneer. During our meetings, we would talk about the Land of Israel, and we would dream about our connection to the Land and about immigrating there. But the war put an end to all of our plans.

When the Germans occupied Poland, the Russians entered our region. I went to work as a common laborer at the sawmill. I worked there until the war between the Germans and the Russians broke out in June 1941.

During Russian rule in Radzivilov, great changes took place in the large work facilities: the flourmills, sawmills, bakeries, shops, and factories were nationalized. They organized all sorts of cooperatives. The government put many people to work in these various organizations, especially those from the ranks of workers and those who were Soviet operatives. They also brought in many Ukrainians to their ranks, and all but a few were blatant anti–Semites who showed their hatred of Jews at every opportunity.

At the same time, many refugees from Poland came to Radzivilov. From their family members who had stayed in the areas conquered by the Germans, they received reports of assaults against Jews. Despite this, many wished to return to their families, but the Soviet militia prevented them from returning and sent them to Russia. But this bitter fate worked out for the best for them and actually saved their lives.

When the war between Russia and Germany broke out on June 22, 1941, great alarm spread among the refugees–and rightly so–that Germany would ghettoize all the Jews and that their fate would be terrible. Young people looked for ways to escape, in particular Jews who had been operatives under Russian rule. The Soviets couldn't mobilize quickly enough, and the Red Army hastily retreated. Jews fled to Kremenets, toward the Russian border, but the Russian border guards sealed the crossing, and those in flight were forced to return to the town, left behind without any way to cross the border.

 

Early Days of German Rule

My brother Avraham and I were among those who had tried to escape from Radzivilov. I returned home, but my brother stayed in Kremenets because he had been a Soviet activist; it was entirely clear that he couldn't go back.

The Ukrainians put together a list of Jews who had been Russian sympathizers, and my brother Avraham was on their list. Although the Ukrainians had cooperated with the Soviets, they immediately switched their allegiance, changing their red color to serve the Germans. They organized their own militias, got special permission from the Germans, and began to consider what to do with Jews, in particular with the Communists, Communist Youth members, and activists during Soviet rule.

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Under this pretext, they launched an assault on the Jews and their property.

 

The Death of My Brother Abraham

As I have already mentioned, my brother Avraham stayed in Kremenets. A rumor broke out among the Ukrainians that the Jews had killed a Ukrainian in the prison, so they called for vengeance on the Jews. My brother was among the Jews in the Kremenets prison. More than 100 incensed and wild peasants armed with pickaxes, knives, and clubs descended on the prison and organized a bloody uprising. At least 10 Jews were killed. My brother escaped from the jail and went home to Radzivilov.

Two German officers were living in our home. We thought that it was better for us to host them, and safer, too. But one night, when my brother and I were asleep in the same room, the Ukrainians appeared, banged on a window, and demanded that we open it. My brother and I dressed, preparing to run away through the back door. My father opened the door as my brother, running, first sprang out of the house. But the house was surrounded by guards, and they immediately opened fire on him. He was killed instantly. I was running just behind him, following him, but when I saw him fall, I stopped and stayed where I was.

My brother's corpse was left sprawled on the steps of our house. The German officers wouldn't let us bring the body inside, making the excuse that an investigation would have to be done because the police, according to them, didn't have permission, in their opinion, to fire on a man who hadn't crossed the threshold of his house. But the next evening, the police came and dragged my brother's body outside the city. In the morning, we found his grave. My father went to the police and begged to be allowed to bring the body to the Jewish cemetery. But the Ukrainian police commander, Zalewski, who knew my father well, ignored his request. Taking it on ourselves, we dug up the body in great terror and brought it to the Jewish cemetery ourselves. To do the burial, we convinced a few other men to help, and as we were finishing, the police appeared and stopped us. They released everyone except me. No one heard from me for days. They accused me of being a Communist Youth member, but I didn't break. I told myself that they couldn't keep me forever and that they would let me go.

My brother's murder drove us into despair. The news spread throughout the town that he was the first one martyred by the Nazis in Radzivilov.

On my brother's grave I swore to take revenge on his Fascist murderers, the Germans and the Ukrainians.

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I also want to add that on the night of my brother's murder, the Ukrainian police murdered 30 to 40 more Jews who had been operatives during Russian rule, including Yitschak Vaynshteyn's brother–in–law (his wife's brother) and Yakira, who was a government rabbi during Polish rule.

 

The Germans Show Their Teeth

During the first weeks of the German occupation, there were signs that the Ukrainian police would unleash unrestrained terror. But soon afterward, a Gestapo platoon arrived. They set up headquarters. But a new wave of robbery, destruction, and murder then began. The first order was that all Jews had to wear a white armband with a Star of David painted in blue on their arm. It was forbidden for Jews to walk on the sidewalks. It was also forbidden for them to mingle with the Christian population.

Two or three weeks after that, they published another decree that all Jewish residents, from young to old, must gather in the market square. There the Germans would identify all those who had professions and those who were unskilled. The square was enclosed on all sides, and soldiers and guards patrolled every exit. Meanwhille, they swarmed like flies on the Jews' houses and hauled away anything they found. When they let the Jews go back, the Jews found their homes burgled and empty.

The Jewish organization that was established at the Germans' behest was tasked to collect a penalty tax in the form of gold and silver vessels and jewelry. Or else people would be sent for forced labor. Dozens of professional men were sent to Vinnitsa to work in a camp. Among those sent to the camp were my uncle Nechemye Porochovnik (who died January 27, 1961, in Israel); the two Barash brothers, who were carpenters; two of the Beregovski brothers; Volf Kaplan (now in Chelyabinsk, Russia); and others whose names I can no longer remember. Most of them died there.

 

Two Ghettos: For the “Useful” and the “Not Useful”

The Germans concentrated the Jews into a ghetto. They carved out the area of punishment for the Jewish population and fenced it in with barbed wire and guarded it with both Ukrainian and Jewish police. After they set up the ghetto, they divided the Jews into two groups, those who were “useful” and those who were “not useful,” that is, workers with a trade and those who had no plausible skills. Skilled workers and tradesmen got special permits and were allowed to live with their families in the area called “Korea,” and those without skills–the elderly, women, children, and the ill–didn't get permits and were concentrated in a separate area “by the river.” I don't know how many people were in the ghetto.[*]

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My brother and I received skilled–worker permits because I had worked in the sawmill and then with my brother Gershon in the flourmill. So our families were guaranteed flour and groats. With our whole family, we moved to the “useful” ghetto. No one had permission to leave the ghetto, but I could because I worked in the flourmill, which was on the “Aryan” side. Life was extremely hard, but somehow it was possible to exist.

 

The Destruction of the “Not–Useful” Ghetto

Months passed after the establishment of the “not–useful” ghetto. One day at the end of June, in the early morning, while people were still asleep, the ghetto was suddenly surrounded by Germans and guardsmen, and anyone who didn't have a work permit had to take their most essential belongings with them. They were all arranged in rows, and the sick, who couldn't walk, were brought in wagons and vehicles. Leybush Kaziultshik and Chayim, his son, revolted and refused to go, and they were shot on the spot. A few other Jews who refused to leave were immediately shot, and the Germans removed their bodies. Everyone was moved under heavily armed guard to the grove near the old village of Leviatin. There they shot everyone in pits that had been prepared for them.

The same day, that is, the day the ghetto was destroyed, I was working with horses in the flourmill. The gentiles told me about the atrocity in detail. Toward evening, I went out to the place on horseback with one of the gentiles, Pietro Kostiuk. Those who had been shot in the pits were still twitching, while the earth that covered them rose and fell. Blood was pooled everywhere. I don't know if I helped anyone escape from there, but it seems to me that there was one boy, Ruven Zeyger (now in the Soviet Union), who managed to flee from the pits. It was said that the victims were forced to take off their clothes and lie down naked on the ground. Then a murderous shower of machinegun fire fell on them. Afterward, a second group of people were forced to lie down on the backs of the murdered people, and thus it went, one on top of the other, until they were all killed. This was how a large number of the Radzivilov Jews were wiped out.

 

The Young People Try to Organize

After the Germans liquidated the “not–useful” ghetto, the remaining Jews knew that time was running out and that the Germans would also destroy the “skilled” ghetto. We were getting reports from various places in Volhynia that the Germans intended to kill all the Jews eventually and without distinction.

A group of young people in the Radzivilov ghetto decided to organize: the Fayfel brothers, Shalom and Pinchas (Pipa) (Shalom was killed after the second action, and Pinchas lives in Vienna); Chayim Royzen (now in America); Simche Yakira (Siunye), and others.

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The leader of the group was Asher Cherkovski. I was also a member.

We were trying to figure out how to get weapons, arguing about how to fight. We were all of the same mind–if the Germans destroyed the ghetto, we'd stand up to them with force and weapons. We also decided to organize the escape of the remaining young people to the forests to join the partisans' flight against the Germans.

 

The Liquidation of the Second Ghetto

No more than five months after the destruction of the first ghetto, we heard rumors that the Germans were preparing to destroy all the Radzivilov Jews, down to the very last one. We had heard that the life was easier for of Jews in Brody than in other places, so when fear of the ultimate liquidation spread and everyone believed that the days of the ghetto were numbered, many began to flee to Brody. Many who fled had no family connections. It didn't take long–it seems to me that it was in October 1942–for all the Germans and the guards to surround the ghetto and, as in the previous “action,” to force everyone into the same place. There, against the backdrop of their brothers' graves, where pits had already been made ready, into their depths, the last of Radzivilov's Jews were thrown. The Germans had prepared two pits, but they filled only one. The second remained empty.

It was said that the Germans specified that Viderhorn the translator stay alive, but he chose to die with his family. In this catastrophic slaughter, my parents and my sister also perished.

The night before the second “action,” I ran away with my friend Genye Rayzman, and we crossed the border into Brody. The Germans had established the border between Radzivilov and Brody that divided Volhynia from Galicia as it had been before World War I. Many Jews were caught crossing the border and were shot on the spot, but my friend Genye Rayzman and I crossed safely and got to Brody. I want to point out that the Judenrat in Brody didn't receive Jews fleeing from Radzivilov kindly. Every Gestapo demand to the Judenrat for workers was filled by those from Radzivilov. Tsverling, the Judenrat deputy chairman, and a Judenrat policeman named Rubin would roam the ghetto and harass Jews from Radzivilov.

Once when the Germans demanded that the Judenrat send a specific number of Jews (we didn't know if it was for work or extermination), my name was added to the list, and so was the name of my friend Chayim Feldman. Mendel Tsverling was in the same transport wagon. They both spoke of escaping during the journey, because they had a saw with which they cut a hole near the door, and eventually they were able to open the door; in this way, many people managed to jump from the train and return to Brody.

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When my friend and I returned to Brody, we decided not to go back to the ghetto. We met up with our friend Henekh Tishker. Under his former home there was a bunker. In the bunker, nearly 30 people were taking shelter, many of them young people, and among them were five from Radzivilov: Chayim Feldman, Leyb Kripitser (who was murdered), Yakov Paritski (who now lives in England), Simche Zats (who lives in America), and me.

 

The Bunker in Brody

The bunker was well built and equipped with everything we needed. There were two exits, both camouflaged. From these we stayed in constant contact with friends in the ghetto and with other concealed places in the city.

As I have already said, the bunker was built below the former apartment of our friend Henekh Tishker. A Christian woman lived there now, and she took care of providing food for us. We were there for almost half a year. We knew we couldn't stay there forever and that we couldn't be leisurely about leaving, so we began to plan to leave the bunker and go to the forest. I knew that there were partisans about 30 kilometers from Brody, in the Leshniov forest. We decided that I would leave for the Leshniov forest to make a connection with the partisans.

 

I Meet the Partisans

I left the bunker and after a few days arrived safely in the Leshniov forest. I connected with a group of armed partisans. Many had been prisoners of war–Russians, Poles, Jews, and others. At first they didn't trust me, and they interrogated me. After a few weeks, however, they gave me a gun and trusted me to go back to the Brody ghetto and get other young people. In the end, the group decided that they could absorb about 20 men and that there was a need for good people, because they helped develop the partisan movement that was fighting against two enemies: the Germans and the Ukrainian nationalists.

 

I Take a Group of Jews from Brody to the Forest

Another boy from Lvov (I don't remember his name) who was a novice and I operated together. Armed, we went to Brody to bring a group of Jews to the forest. The boy from Lvov headed toward the ghetto, and I, to the bunker. We were supposed to meet up at a predetermined place with two groups of Jews.

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I was already in the bunker when we suddenly heard shouts in German: “Jews, out!” I have already said that there was a second, secret exit from the bunker. The people in the bunker immediately started toward this exit to escape. At the same time, the Germans began to destroy the other entrance to the bunker. I yelled, “Don't leave,” and then I fired three shots at the camouflaged exit that the Germans were now beginning to destroy. The Germans were surprised to hear shots, and they thought there was a well–armed group of partisans inside, so they left. I was the first to run outside, and I fired shots in the direction of the fleeing soldiers. I gave an order for everyone to run after me. I was able to avoid the panic that ensued among the retreating Germans and to lead the young people, 28 Jews in all, through the alleys toward the way out of the city to the road to the forest. We left the city safely and eventually got to the forest.

But the comrade from Lvov was caught during the night in the ghetto when police began a sudden search, and he was apprehended.

 

The Heroic Deed of a Boy from Radzivilov

I want to mention an event that occurred at the beginning of 1943. While we were in the bunker in Brody, Hersh Marder, a boy from Radzivilov who had recently escaped from the Radzivilov ghetto and who had fought like an armed partisan, was captured by the Germans. They brought him to Brody and put him in the prison, which was located below the fire station. But he still had his gun hidden, and when they brought him to the police inspector, he fired directly at the guard who was accompanying him and fled to the ghetto.

When the Germans found out about this, they came to the ghetto to search for him. They allowed the Ukrainian police and the fire brigade to take revenge for Marder's actions. For a half an hour, the murderers rampaged through the Brody ghetto and killed many Jews.

 

The Death of a Polish informer

When we were in the bunker and heard the Germans crying, “Jews, out!”, Comrade Tishker recognized the voice of his neighbor, a Pole named Yantshin, among the German voices. After we had safely exited the bunker, we decided to kill Yantshin, the Polish informer. Before we left the city, Tishker, Chayim Feldman, Simche Zats, Leyb Kripitser, and I returned to Brody and went to Yantshin's house. Tishker, who was his neighbor, called him outside. When he came out and saw not only Tishker but four other men, he became frightened.

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Tishker turned to him and said, “Now that the Germans have uncovered the bunker and everyone has run away to the forest, we need food. I'm asking you to bring us food for the people who were in the bunker.” Yantshin said, “In my house I have only pork and other such things. But maybe my neighbor has just now baked some bread. Why don't you guys go to my neighbor now and get it from him. In the meantime, I'll go and get the pork for you.”

We already knew that many Germans were at the neighbor's house that Yantshin was telling us to go to and that they were there drinking whisky. We said, “You go and get some bread for us.” We were sure he'd do this and tell the Germans about us. He then turned as if to urinate, and I shot him. And the bastard dropped on his ass. We cleared out of there quickly. When the Germans heard the shots, they sprang into action and began firing at us, but we were already scattered and were beginning to run to the group that was waiting for us in the forest. We brought them to the partisans.

 

Sakovitsh, the Jews' Friend

I want to take this opportunity to say a few words about Sakovitsh, a real friend of the Jews.

During our days in the bunker, our connection Tishker was connected to a Lithuanian named Sakovitsh. He was a communist, and he loved Jews. It was he, he who looked out for the needs of the 28 Jews in the bunker. He organized a network of peasants who were sympathetic to Jews. They'd bring him provisions for the Jews regularly. Sakovitsh would send the provisions to Tishker's neighbor, and she would deliver them to us. I'll have more to say about Sakovitsh later.

 

We Take 20 Jews out of the Brody Ghetto

While we were in the city, during spring 1943, we were hearing rumors that the Germans were planning to liquidate the ghetto in Brody. There were no other ghettos remaining in all of Volhynia in those days. Cities and town were all “Judenrein” (free of Jews). A friend and I entered the Brody ghetto and succeeded in bringing 20 Jews out before the destruction of the ghetto. We brought them to the partisans.

When the ghetto was destroyed, more Jews managed to escape, and they joined us. Our platoon grew to almost 100 people, most of them Jews. Among them were five from Radzivilov: myself, Feldman, Leyb Kripitser, Yakov Paritski, and Simche Zats.

 

Partisan Activities

Our partisan unit was the only one operating in the Brody area. We worked against the Germans and the Ukrainian nationalists.

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We had no contact whatsoever with the partisans' central command, and we operated independently, according to our own choices and interest. The head of the unit was someone who had been a Russian captain and who had fled from the fort at Brisk. I don't remember his name, but we called him “Comrade D.”

Our unit was divided into four groups, 25 men in each group. Each group had a commander. I was the commander of the one that included the five Radzivilov men. Sonderkommandos patrolled its perimeter. We attacked small groups of Germans, but we didn't go near the larger groups. We were a local unit, making raids on food, ammunition. The main partisan forces were concentrated some 100 kilometers from us, in the Polesia region. As I said, we had no connection with them.

 

The Ukrainian Nationalist Division

In the surrounding area, the Ukrainian national division organized by the Germans was operating. It was called the Ukrainian Volunteer Division. This division fought against the Red Army and Russian partisans. This division, as a separate army unit, was under the German SD's command, and the Germans threatened to send them to the front, but they refused to go. They wanted to form an independent Ukraine, so they scattered in the forests and fought the against the Germans there.

We had people in this division with whom we could cooperate. At the head of the division was a Ukrainian named Zaluzshny, who, for all intents and purposes, was a friend of the partisans. We got reconnaissance from him about operations planned against the partisans. This division commander didn't exactly know our strengths, but he never once asked us for a review; he knew that we were fighting the Germans–our common enemy. Our commander sent a three–man delegation to division headquarters to negotiate to prevent us from fighting each other. I was a member of the delegation.

The division headquarters was camped some 10 kilometers from the town of Leshniov, 30 kilometers from Brody.

The results of the negotiations were good. We agreed not to fight each other. Our units and theirs would operate independently in the entire area. But we also learned that the purpose of our talks, according to Commander Zaluzshny, was to impress on us the need to be vigilant and to warn each other in written reports that would be transmitted to each of our headquarters.

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When we returned after the two–day negotiations, we couldn't ignore Zaluzshny's warning that this Ukrainian division had agreed to suspend hostilities between us with the intention using our fighting force and then disarming and destroying us.

Therefore, this warning revealed something very essential, and thanks to it, we knew enough to be ready for any sudden attack by the Ukrainians.

Getting food for the unit was very difficult. We didn't want to take food from the peasants by force. We didn't want them to think we were a robber gang, and we didn't want to provoke them. Doing this would likely inspire the peasants to help the Ukrainians destroy us. So we had to get food from farther away, which meant that we had to diversify and split up, and in doing so we diluted our already weakened forces. We trained a band of scouts who came in contact with a few Poles in the area, and they gave us information on the local population's mood.

Despite our intensive efforts, some successful, some not so successful, the unit suffered from severe starvation.

In September 1943, we were surrounded by a platoon of German soldiers, who numbered some 2,500. There was no way for us to break through their circle. Someone apparently turned us in. We fought to our last drop of strength and suffered many casualties. Our commander was also killed. Only 11 men from our entire unit, 8 Jews and 3 Russians, were still alive. I was the commander of this small group.

When the Ukrainian nationalists heard of our losses, they decided to destroy us down to the very last one. They began to organize ambushes, and they forced us to move from place to place in order to weaken us. During one battle with the Ukrainians, I was severely injured in my leg, which was hit by four bullets. I was forced to lie on my back for six weeks until I recovered. I stayed with a Pole that I knew. My dear friend Chayim Feldman watched over me and didn't leave me for even a minute.

Meanwhile, our group implemented different operations in the Poniekowice region, where Zaluzshny's sister lived, whom I already mentioned. She was a friend to the Jews and a helper of the partisans. She told us about two Ukrainian leaders who were in the area and identified where they were living.

 

The Death of Leyb Kripitser

We planned to kill the two Ukrainian leaders. At the head of our group–sent instead of me because my wound hadn't healed–was Mikolay Martshenko, a peasant from Zhitomir.

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When the men from the group arrived at the site, they surrounded the house. They burst inside and shot the two Ukrainian leaders. They escaped in the dead of night from there to Zaluzshny's sister's home. This was a stupid thing to do, because the Ukrainians, who understood this as an act of murder, searched for our men and immediately found them hiding in the woman's house. They told this to the German soldier in charge in Brody. And so they appeared immediately to surround the Zaluzshny woman's house. In a difficult battle, four of our men fell, two Jews and two Russians, among them Commander Martshenko. Leyb Kripitser was hurt badly. Under heavy fire lobbed furiously by the Germans, comrades carried him to the place where Chayim Feldman and I were. But when they got to us, Kripitser was no longer alive; he died on the way. We buried him in the forest. And so this was the end of one of the best men of Radzivilov.

We were down to just six. Afterward, three from our group fell in a few other battles, and then there were only Chayim Feldman, Eliahu Valakh from Brody, and me.

 

We Return to Brody

When we were reduced to only three, we had no desire to stay in the forest. We were pursued on every side with no means of survival. Eliahu had a sister in Brody who was hiding with 40 Jews in a bunker. We decided to return to Brody and go to this bunker. Eliahu knew its location, but its entrance was heavily camouflaged. The bunker was in the city center, in a four–story building, and there were many Poles and Ukrainians living in it. For some time, the Germans had suspected that there were Jews hiding in a bunker beneath the building, but they couldn't tell where the entrance was. And they didn't want to blow up the entire building. The bunker had been built by a Jewish engineer as a two–floor living unit, and it was equipped with electricity and plumbing.

When we got to the place, we immediately figured out the entrance from our partisan experience: we saw a number of Jews coming out to get food. We stopped them. They were frightened and at once went back to the bunker. We followed them and went inside with them. A horrible sight appeared before my eyes: 40 or more Jews were lying rotting and swollen from starvation without any ability to move. Eliahu Valakh's sister immediately recognized us and was glad that we had come. In the bunker we also found a Jew from Radzivilov, Itshe Lerner. We brought our weapons to the bunker.

After a few days, we began to plan our survival.

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I made an attempt to get in contact with our friend Sakovitsh, the peasant with whom we had connected when we were in Tishker's bunker, and also Yanek Stakhovski, Tishker's school friend. I was able to get in touch with them, and they promised to help get food if possible. But the food they got for us wasn't enough for more than 40 people. After a stormy meeting, we decided that a group of 12 young people in the bunker would carry out a partisan–like operation. The Jewish residents of Brody in the bunker told us that a rich Ukrainian who had two grocery stores lived on Railroad Street.

 

A Successful Operation

On Christmas Eve 1943–1944, I, as the head of the group, went to the Ukrainian's house. We knocked on the door and went inside. I spoke to him in fluent Ukrainian (I had learned to speak Ukrainian really well when I was in the forest), saying, “We come to you in the name of the Ukrainian underground to acquire a quantity of this and that including medicine, food, and clothing. I give you a timeline to get all this to us. Because of the hour, we'll take what we need now, and then we'll come for the medicine. If you tell anyone about anything that's happened here, you and your entire household will go up in smoke.” The Ukrainian and his household members were frightened, and we took everything there was to take. The Ukrainian didn't resist, and he didn't seem disturbed. We also took his radio and bundles packed with food and returned to the bunker, our operation having succeeded. When the Jews saw how many supplies we had brought, they began to hug and kiss us, happy that we could break their starvation.

The same evening, we heard on the same radio that we brought with us that the underground was coming close to Sarny. Our joy was great. But not for long.

 

The Germans Discover the Bunker

Chayim Feldman and Eliahu Valakh's sister left the bunker to take care of something or other. When they went out, they noticed a group of armed German soldiers. The Germans leaped to stop them, and they both became confused and didn't know what to do–return to the bunker, but in doing so, reveal the whereabouts of the entrance, or fall into the Germans' hands. They decided to run back to the bunker. The Germans immediately opened fire and shot Chayim Feldman in the leg. He hurried to me and quickly told me about the incident, saying that the entrance to the bunker had been revealed to the Germans. It didn't take long for the situation to deteriorate, so I shouted loudly, “Everyone leave immediately through the secondary exit.” I carried Chayim, whose leg was injured, in my arms.

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Everyone managed to get out safely, and luckily we saw two peasants hauling a snow sleigh. I grabbed the sleigh and then dragged Chayim, putting him in it, and then brought him to Sakovitsh's house. There he got first aid. I must point out that when we broke out of the bunker, we went in many different directions, but a group of about 15 followed me to Sakovitsh's home. When Sakovitsh saw so large a group of Jews, he said that there was no way to hide everyone, because he was worried about the neighbors talking and about his life and those of his family members. Indeed, this was the truth, so I decided to take the injured and the entire group of Jews out of Brody.

 

The Death of Chayim Feldman

I led the group out by night through the former Brody ghetto. In those days, the front was getting closer to Brody, and German columns were on the outskirts of the city. Not far from the Brody ghetto, we encountered a group of armed Germans, who spotted us and started firing on us heavily. We withdrew to the ruins of the ghetto, and even there we were surprised by Germans who opened fire on us. I was still hauling Chayim Feldman in the snow sleigh, but still I returned the Germans' gunfire. Suddenly Chayim rose from the sleigh and sprang from it and, jumping on one foot, disappeared from sight. We hid among the ruins. After that, we looked for Chayim for an hour. But we didn't find him. The Germans were on a rampage and fired constantly. No doubt, they were looking for Chayim. It wasn't conceivable that he could go far in his condition. I didn't hear from him again. I assumed that he had died. The loss of my best friend was a very great blow for me. We had been devoted friends since childhood. When I was laid up with an injury, he stayed by my bedside for six weeks. I tried to carry him, but in an instant he was lost to me forever.

 

The Death of Lize Kober

When the Germans opened fire on us in the ruins of the ghetto, we all scattered. Only Eliahu and his sister, I, and one other young single girl from Brody, named Lize Kober, regrouped. That same night, we stayed together in one of the basements, and we decided to stay there the next day and on the following day to leave Brody and go back to the Leshniov forest. We decided that Eliahu's sister would go to the peasants she knew and bring us something to eat. We would wait for her in the basement.

A few gentiles who spotted us reported us to the Germans.

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In the basement, we heard someone describing our hiding place in Ukrainian. We decided that there was no point in lingering, so we left the basement. Lize and I ran in one direction and Eliahu in another. The German opened fire on us, and Lize fell to the ground. A bullet hit her, and she was covered in blood. She said to me, “Run, save yourself. I am lost.” This happened in January 1944.

 

The Germans Pursue Me

I ran on by myself, leaving behind the wounded Lize Kober. The Germans shot at me constantly. After I ran some 10 meters, I slipped into a ruined house, and the Germans followed me. I hid behind a column. When the first German burst in, I shot him, and he fell on the spot. I went up to the second floor, shooting behind me as I went, and the Germans followed in my footsteps. Then I jumped from the second floor to the street and from there blended into the crowd. As I walked, I tried to figure out what to do. I decided to go to Sakovitsh. I tapped on his door, and he came outside. I told him I was alone. He told me that a partisan had killed a German in the city. And I told him everything that had happened. And he advised me to leave his house and not to linger because the Germans and Ukrainians were searching for the person who did it, and they were tracking him.

 

The Death of Zaluzshny, the Jews' Friend

I had no choice but to return to the Leshniov forest, on whose outskirts Zaluzshny lived. When I got to his house, I was shocked to see the door wide open. There wasn't a living soul inside, and everything inside was destroyed and broken. I went to other Polish neighbors, but I didn't find them either. I learned afterward that the Poles were afraid to sleep in their homes because gangs of Ukrainians were organizing attacks on Poles and killing them. One Polish guy told me that a few days ago the Ukrainians had killed Zaluzshny and his entire family because of his partisan connections.

Alone in the forest, I became a man of the forest: alone, without family, without comrades or friends. My situation was terrible. Hunger hunted me like death. For many months I wandered from place to place, banging on peasants' doors, begging for something to eat. Eventually the Ukrainians caught on to my trail, but I was quiet and stayed hidden, and I managed to evade them.

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Salvation

This occurred between March 15 and 20, 1944. I was hanging around by myself in the forest, and suddenly I heard men speaking Russian. Thinking that they were Ukrainian nationalists, I ran to hide, but they spotted me. I decided that what would be would be; I would approach, my gun in my hand. The Russians trained their rifles on me, ready to fire. I started speaking to them in Russian. At first they were suspicious that I was spying for the Germans. They roughed me up and dragged me to their headquarters. This was the vanguard of the Red Army.

After a thorough investigation, and after I proved to them who I was, I asked to join them because I wanted to fight the Germans and take my revenge for my family's blood, which they had shed. They wanted to send me to the rear lines, to the home front, but I convinced them that I was determined to stay at the front. In the end, they put me in a platoon that was connected to the 192nd Tashkent Division.

 

I Fight in the Flanks of the Red Army

The Red Army advanced as it pursued the Germans westward and liberated cities and towns. The Germans showed great resistance in their withdrawal. In April 1944, we reestablished the offensive front line, and our forces drew close to Brody as they liberated Gorokhov and Radziechów. In the battle to free Brody, thousands were sacrificed on both sides. The Germans strongly defended Brody with tanks. For an entire month there were heavy battles until the main divisions fell.

About six kilometers from Brody, the village of Konyushkov spread out over a hill, and Germans were firing on our forces from there. Our unit was ordered to take them out and regain the village. The village exchanged hands five times. On the sixth attempt, our unit commander was killed, and our entire unit was destroyed except for four soldiers with two machineguns. We decided to not to leave our position and to hold it no matter what. The Germans tried numerous times to attack us, but they weren't successful. We resisted their assault for 14 hours until new forces arrived. Thanks to our brave actions, we were rewarded. The four of us received the Slava Order First Class. We fought in other battles until the winter offensive was called off.

Before the summer offensive in July 1944, we were involved in several battles in the Brody region. I participated in many of them, and twice I was highly commended.

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The Soviet command recommended that I be sent to officers' training school. This was on July 13. But on the same day, we learned that the summer offensive would be launched the next day. So I requested that they not send me back to officers' training school but let me stay at the front. I wanted to fulfill my vow to avenge my perished family. I didn't want to take myself out of battles as long as I could fight.

In July 1944, the summer offensive started to push our front line forward. In the early morning, when all the roads were scouted and there was no patience for delaying our longed–for ambitions, we set out for battle. The artillery forces and the armored and airborne divisions rained fire for an hour and a half and blew up the German positions. After “the weakening,” we swept down on the German lines. The Germans fired an inferno from machineguns and mortars toward our regulars' line. Our battalion couldn't advance. I could tell where the heavy fire was coming from, and I went to the battalion's commanding officer for permission to take out the German mortar positions. He agreed, and together with my aide, Arlov, I opened heavy fire from behind. This was a surprise to the Germans, and it finished them off. We destroyed their mortar position, and our battalion was now ready to advance without difficulty. For this action I received a medal, the Red Star. Our division, the 192nd Tashkent, liberated Brody. And after Brody, many cities and town in the region. We continued on to Lvov (Lemberg).

 

I Lose My Right Leg

Between July 14 and 17, we met with little resistance, but when we got close to Lvov, we encountered strong German forces defending the city. In order to withstand the enemy forces, our commander, Gretshko, asked the soldiers to volunteer to go out on a scouting mission. Not many volunteered, but I myself did.

The commander put me in charge of a group of soldiers. Our orders were to pinpoint the enemy's firing site. I went out to scout as the head of the group. The Germans were firing at everything. When we approached, we found ourselves face to face with the Germans, and a horrible battle raged. Many of our group fell, and many were injured. Suddenly I felt a strong blow to my right leg as though fire were shooting through me, and I was covered with blood. I lay bleeding on the battlefield for three hours because the field medics couldn't rescue me under the heavy fire that was being launched close to where I was. Finally, our men were able to repel the Germans. I was brought to the closest first aid field station in very grave condition.

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My right leg was punctured with bullets, and my left leg was also injured, but less so. The station medic immediately amputated my leg below the knee. This was on July 7, 1944.

I was brought to the army hospital in Rovno, and I stayed there for two weeks. The Germans bombed Rovno, and all those who were injured badly were sent in a special medical train to the Caucasus. I was in terrible condition the entire way. I suffered from terrible pain and high fever. Because of this, the health services' chief physician transferred me from the train to army hospital 4656 in Rostov.

I was put into a private room. No one from the staff believed that I would pull through and stay alive. I stayed in this hospital for nearly a year. During that time, I was able to recover and regain my strength. There I met another soldier from my same battalion who was injured near the Vistula River. He told me that after I had been injured on the battlefield, many spoke highly of me and praised my efforts, and also that I had been recommended for the highest award, the Red Banner.

 

News from Radzivilov

In the hospital I met a fellow from Radzivilov, Mendel Vaynshteyn (now in Russia). He got out of the hospital before me and went back to Radzivilov. Then he returned to the hospital and told me that a few survivors had returned to the city and that my uncle Nechemye Porochovnik was among them. He also told me that all the Jews of Radzivilov, which was now in Russia, intended to go to Poland. Hearing this, I decided to leave the hospital and return to Radzivilov, but my injury hadn't yet healed and the doctor refused to discharge me, so I appealed to the hospital administrator, a Jew, Major Yakov Kelman, and told him why I wanted to leave the hospital. He understood my distress and let me leave.

While I was in the hospital, I married Gertrude Kalishnikova.

 

Return to Radzivilov

On April 28, I got to Radzivilov. I found my uncle Nechemye and other Jews who had survived. They were all preparing to go to Poland. My uncle and I decided not to go to Poland. I still wanted to take revenge on the Ukrainian murderers who had killed our family and caused such agony to the Jews. We decided to trace the Ukrainian murderers and report them to the NKVD. After much difficulty and dreadful searches, I found a few of the murderers, in particular Mikhal Zalewski, the town police commander in Radzivilov; Jefimczuk, his deputy; Tushakovski, who worked for the SD; and Zudanowski, the civilian police commander.

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All of them had a hand in the killing of the Radzivilov Jews. They were sentenced to 25 years' hard labor by the Soviet army court, each and every one of them. In addition to the “big ones, “the “lesser ones” from the police, like Demko and others, were also sentenced. After they had been brought to punishment, I felt that I had fulfilled my vow and my duty to humanity.

After the war's end, I worked in Rovno for a few more years, until 1949. In 1946 my daughter Irit was born, and in 1949 my second daughter, Tova, was born.

In 1949 I was recommended to be named a manager of a factory in Radzivilov. I worked in this capacity for two and a half years. But it was difficult to continue to live in the city where my family and all the Jews had been slaughtered. I requested a transfer to another place, and I was sent to Zdolbunov. I worked there from 1951 to 1954. In 1954 we decided, my wife and I, to go to the Urals, and we settled in Chelyabinsk. We lived there until 1956. I received a letter giving me permission to return to Poland, and I decided to go to Poland with my family in order to immigrate to Israel, where my uncle Nechemye had been since 1948.

We were in Breslau, which is in Poland, for seven weeks, and at the end of April 1957, we immigrated to Israel.

We stayed with my family in Shaar HaAliya. And after 10 months, the Jewish Agency moved us the Holon. Now I work in the Globus factory in Tel Aviv.

Finally, I want to add this important information, that the chief gendarme in Radzivilov was Krauser.


Footnote

    *Note in original: On this action, Mr. Yitschak Vaynshteyn reports that it was organized on August 28, not a few weeks after the Germans entered the town, as Mr. Porochovnik reports––the Editor return

 

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