Interviewer: Y. Alperovitsh
Translated by Tina Lunson
Yechiel Porokhovnik was 17 years old in 1941, when the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out.
Son of a proletariat family (his father was a wagon driver), from his earliest youth he had helped his father earn a living for the family.
He was a member of Young Pioneer in Radzivilov, dreaming of going for pioneer training and later immigrating to the Land of Israel. The war destroyed all his plans.
In the first days of the German occupation, the Ukrainian fascists shot his brother Avraham because of his relationship to the Soviet activists. He swore over the fresh grave of his murdered brother to avenge the spilling of his brother's innocent blood. Later, when the Germans murdered his entire familyparents, brothers and sistershe saw only one goal for himself: vengeance.
Yechiel Porokhovnik used every form of battle against Nazism during the Hitler occupation: he fought in bunkers, with partisans, as a forest Jew, and later in the Soviet Army. He did not put his weapon down until he lost his right leg.
He was among the first young people in Radzivilov who tried to organize the ghetto in an armed rebellion against the enemy. After the murder of the Radzivilov Jews, when he had lost his family, he fled to Brody, and while sitting in a bunker with other Jews there, he made contact with partisans and organized the Brody youth in the ghetto, some of whom escaped into the forest. He was never alone in his struggle. He always gathered around him a group ready with weapons in hand to defend Jewish honor and pride.
He was one of the first Jewish youths from the Brody area in the ranks of the partisans. He participated in all the most dangerous operations against the Germans and the Ukrainian gangs.
Even while he was laid up in a peasant hut for six weeks with a bullet through his leg, he was still afire with the fight. He gave his comrades the instructions and guidance they needed.
He was one of three delegates from the partisans who went to negotiate with the leadership of the Ukrainian Nationalist Division about holding their fire, so that they were not fighting against each other.
In the heat of battle, he was always one of the first in the most dangerous positions. He witnessed the deaths of his fellow partisans who fell near him, and he fought the enemy with even more fire and wrath. To his credit are no small number of German and Ukrainian casualties.
He was the organizer of a successful operation to get food for 40 Jews found in a bunker in Brody, whose stomachs were swollen from starvation. The eyes of the disbelieving Jews turned to him, and they saw him as their knight. Later, when the bunker was discovered by the Germans, he found a clever way to get the Jews out to the forest, killing several Germans along the way.
Fate would have it that after all the losses his partisan troop suffered, he was left alone. Weapon in hand, he wandered around the forest, persecuted by local Ukrainian gangs and Germans. While fleeing a German who had been pursuing him, he killed him.
As soon as he was free, he joined a Soviet military detail and was promptly sent to the front. He was awarded three military distinctions for heroic acts: Red Banner, Red Stars, and the order Slava First Class, as well as many other medals.
He was among the first to voluntarily present himself to head up a group of soldiers to gather intelligence. Only when he lost his left leg in heavy fighting did he interrupt the battle, but he was satisfied that he had fulfilled his vow.
After the war and now an invalid, missing a leg, he did not rest. Arriving back in Radzivilov, he refused repatriation to Poland in order to find the murderers of his family and the Radzivilov Jews. After long searches, he found some, whom he turned over to the NKVD, and when they received their sentences, he finally rested.
In 1957, he used a second opportunity to leave Russia. He arrived in the Land that same year by way of Poland with his Russian wife and two daughters.
It was not easy to be absorbed into the country. His Russian wifeto whom he had described the land as wonderful and amazingwas quickly disappointed at not finding a warm environment there, and she left to return to the Soviet Union.
They parted on good terms: they divided the children. The wife took the younger daughter, and the elder stayed with him.
Life was hard for him. He worked in a factory and came home tired. His daughter, who was now 16 years old, ran the household. She cooked and washed and went to school in the evenings.
He stayed in contact with his wife and daughter in the Soviet Union. He received gifts from them, and he sent packages to them from here. He regretted that it had come to this, that his family had been torn apart. He missed his wife and daughter. His daughter here naturally missed her mother and sister.
To my question of whether he contemplated reuniting with his wife and child, he did not give a clear answer. He said, It would have been better for me if my wife had refused to make me go this hard way, but we have gone our separate ways because of it, because she couldn't acclimate to this land and I couldn't oppose her decision to leave the land.
My daughter and I went with them to Haifa. And only then, when the ship was leaving, did I understand that I had made a great mistake. I took his answer to mean that the family would reunite in the end. What other way could there be? I suspect that in the end he will take his daughter and leave the Land and return to his wife and child.
His testimony vividly reflects the difficult struggle for survival of the Jews of Radzivilov and Brody during the Nazi occupation.
Y. Porokhovnik provided the names of friends who gave their lives in the struggle with the bloody enemy. We also find important information about the Radzivilov Jews' participation in the partisan movement, and Porokhovnik corroborates with many facts the active participation of the Ukrainian bandits in the murder of the local Jews.
Yechiel Porochovnik Recounts
Translated by Tina Lunson
Date and place of birth: 1924, Radzivilov
Vocation: Factory worker
Address: Holon, Hatanim Street 24 Apt. 4
Family members killed in World War II:
Father: YakovMoshe Porokhovnik, born 1885, killed in Radzivilov ghetto during the liquidation of the second ghetto, October 1942.
Mother: Yehudit Porokhovnik (née Yergis), born in 1895, killed with his father during the liquidation of the second ghetto, October 1942.
Brothers: Gershon Porokhovnik, born 1914, killed in the Radzivilov ghetto during the liquidation of the second ghetto, October 1942.
[Page 350] Shmuel Porokhovnik, born in 1918, killed on the Front, date unknown.
Avraham Porokhovnik, born in 1922. One of the first victims in Radzivilov, shot by the Germans in the first days after their occupation.
Sister: Toybe Porokhovnik, born in 1912. Killed with the parents during the liquidation of the second ghetto, October 1942.
Yechiel Porokhovnik relates:
As a child, I studied at the Tarbut school and later at the Polish public school. I was in school until the PolishGerman war broke out in September 1939.
Most of the young people in Radzivilov frequented the local Zionist youth groups. I, for example, was a member of Young Pioneer. At the meetings, we would talk about the Land of Israel. Every one of us dreamed of going to a pioneer training camp and then immigrating to the Land of Israel, but the war ruined all our plans.
My father, YakovMoshe Porokhovnik, was a partner in a mill in Radzivilov. He had a team of four or five horses and used to transport flour from the mill to the flour merchants. Like my brothers, I helped my father in this work.
When the PolishGerman war broke out and the Russians marched into Radzivilov in September 1939, I went to work as a laborer in a sawmill and worked there until the GermanSoviet war broke out, in July 1941.
Before the Soviet period, certain changes had taken place in Radzivilov. The larger enterprises, such as the sawmill, [grain] mills, bakeries, shops, and artisan workshops, had been taken into the government domain. Various artisan cooperatives (artels) were organized.
The Soviet authorities engaged mostly people with a proSoviet attitude from the laboring masses for work details in various establishments and institutions. Also, many Ukrainians expressed their eagerness to help the Soviet authorities. Among such Ukrainian activists were no small number of great antisemites, who exploited their hatred for Jews at every opportunity.
There were a significant number of Jewish refugees from Poland in Radzivilov. From their families who had remained under the Germans, they had already heard about their ill treatment under the Germans. A large proportion of the refugees signed up with the Soviets to be returned to their families, and the Soviet military later registered them all to be deported to Russia; thanks to that, they survived.
When the GermanSoviet War broke out on July 22, 1941, chaos ensued. The refugees worried that the Germans would throw the Jews into a ghetto and that it would be terrible. Young people began to flee, especially Jews who had actively helped the Soviets. The Soviets did not manage to mobilize at all; they did not have any time, and the Red Army ceded in disarray. The Jews fled to Kremenets and from there to the border. But the Russian border patrol would not let anyone through, and they were forced to return to the town. Only a few succeeded in getting through.
The First Days of the German Occupation
My brother Avraham and I were among those who had fled Radzivilov. I returned home, and my brother stayed in Kremenets. He had been active for the Soviets, and it was understood that he could not return to Radzivilov.
When the Germans arrived in Radzivilov, the Ukrainians put together a list of the Jews who had been active in the former Soviet establishment, and naturally my brother was on the list.
The Ukrainians who had previously worked with the Soviet authorities quickly changed their colors and went heart and soul to help the Germans. Then began the robbery of Jewish possessions. They had established a selfdetermination government and received broad powers from the Germans. They began to settle accounts with Jews that they had had an eye on, taking special revenge on former communists, Soviet youth members and ordinary Soviet activists.
My Brother Avraham's Death
As I mentioned before, my brother Avraham had stayed in Kremenets and did not return to Radzivilov. The Ukrainians broadcast a rumor in Kremenets that the Jews had killed a Ukrainian in the Kremenets jail and called for revenge against the Jews. My brother was among those Jewish arrestees in the Kremenets jail, whom the Germans had arrested along with other Kremenets Jews. A crowd of a few hundred Ukrainians in a wild frenzy, armed with axes, knives, and clubs, stormed the Kremenets jail and created a bloodbath. They beat dozens of Jews to death. My brother managed to escape from the jail at the beginning of the pogrom and came home to Radzivilov.
There were two German officers lodged at our house, and we thought our lives were more secure because of that. But when the Ukrainian police began to search out and arrest former communists and Communist Youth members, they of course had my brother Avraham's name on the list, and late one evening they came to take him away.
I was sleeping along with my brother Avraham when the Ukrainian police knocked on the window to be let inside. My brother and I got dressed and were preparing to run out through the back door. My father went to open the door.
Just at that moment, my brother began to run, but the house was surrounded by police. At that moment, as he tried to tear through the door, the police opened fire on him. He fell dead on the spot. I wanted to run right after him, but seeing that my brother was already dead, I remained where I was.
My brother's death shattered us. The news spread like lightning through the town. He was one of the first Nazi victims in Radzivilov. His dead body remained by the steps to our house.
The German officers who lodged with us did not let us take my dead brother into the house, motivated by the idea of starting an investigation against the police who had not had any right to shoot, according to their reckoning, a person who has not stepped over the threshold of the house. But the following evening the police came and took away my brother's dead body to the sand pits outside the town and buried it there.
Early in the morning, we found my brother's grave. My father went to the police and asked for permission to take my brother to the Jewish cemetery, but Ukrainian police commander Zalewski, even though he had been a friend of my father's before, denied permission. Then we took a chance and, on our own initiative, dug up my brother, transferred him to the Jewish cemetery, reburied him in the proper Jewish way. Others were at the reburying, among them our Dov Grinshteyn (who now lives in Ramat Gan).
Even as we were still covering the grave, the police arrived and arrested all of us. Later they released everyone except me. They tortured me for a few days, beating me so that I would confess that I was a Communist Youth member, but I did not confess. Seeing that they could not get anything out of me, they let me go home, too.
I swore on my dead brother's grave to take revenge on the fascists, Ukrainians, and Germans, and later I did indeed make good on my vow.
I want to emphasize that on the night when the Ukrainian police shot my brother, the police also shot 30 to 40 Jews from Radzivilov, mostly former Soviet activists. Among those shot was Yakira, who had been a rabbi in Kozin before the Polish times.
The Germans Show Their Ugly Face
We passed the first week of the German occupation under the savage terror of the Ukrainian police. Later, a detachment of Gestapo showed up and set up an administration in town, and a fresh cycle of robberies, offenses, and murders began.
First off, the administration issued an order that the Jews must wear a white armband with a blue star of David. Jews were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks or to have contact with the Christian population.
About two or three weeks after the Germans had marched into town, they commanded the whole Jewish population, young and old, to assemble in the market square. Something was going to happen. The Germans sorted craftsmen and noncraftsmen separately. The market square was surrounded by Germans and police. At the same time, roving gangs robbed Jewish houses of whatever they liked. Then something happened: everyone was released and felt they had gotten off with just fear. The Jews returning home found that their houses had been looted. The reason they were released was never known.
[Note in original: About this same fact, Yitschak Vaynshteyn relates that this was on August 28 and not a few weeks after the Germans entered the town, as Porokhovnik tells it. Y. A.]
The Germans systematically demanded contributions from the Jewish Committee they had established: money, gold, and valuables. In addition, the Germans demanded Jews for various hard labor jobs.
The Germans gathered a few dozen craftsmen and transported them to Vinnitsa. There they worked in a camp. Among those shipped off were my uncle Nechemye Porokhovnik (he died February 27, 1961, in Israel); both of the Barash brothers, who were carpenters; two of the Bergovski brothers; Volf Kaplan (now in Chelyabinsk, Russia); and others that I do not remember now. Only a few ever returned from that camp. All the others died there in Vinnitsa.
Two Ghettos: For the Useful and for the Not Useful
The Germans ordered that a ghetto be set up for the Jews in Radzivilov. So they designated a special area, where the poor Jews had lived previously. The ghetto was fenced in with barbed wire and guarded by Ukrainian and Jewish police.
After the ghetto was created, the Germans divided the Jewish population into two categories: useful and not useful. The useful workers, craftsmen and professionals, received special passes, and they were permitted to take their families and live in the area that we called Korea; the not usefulold folks, women, children, and sick peopledid not receive passes, and they lived in a separate area by the river. I cannot say how many Jews lived in the ghetto.
At first I worked in a sawmill; later I went to work with my brother Gershon in a mill. Our family had always been involved with flour and grain. My brother Gershon and I received passes as useful workers, and we took our family and went to live in the ghetto for the useful. I even had permission to go outside the ghetto, because I worked in the mill, which was located on the Aryan side.
That life was not easy but we coped with it.
The Liquidation of the Not Useful Ghetto
In total, the not useful ghetto existed for a couple of months. At the end of June 1942, at dawn, when everyone was sleeping, the ghetto was quickly surrounded by Germans and police. All those who did not have work passes were told to take a few valuable things, and they were all stood in long lines. Sick people who could not walk were placed in wagons or trucks. One family, Leybush Kaziultshik and his son Chayim, balked at going, and the Germans simply shot them where they stood. The Germans also shot some others who refused to go. They took the dead bodies with them.
All the Jews from the not useful ghetto were led under heavy guard to a forest not far from the village of Leviatin, not far from the old stadium. Pits had already been dug out there, and everyone was shot.
That day, that is, the day of the action, I was working at the mill with the horses. The gentile men told me exactly how the action was carried out. In the evening, Pietro Kostiuk and I rode out on horseback to the pits. The people in the pits were still tossing about, the earth was heaving, and blood spurted from the ground. It is hard to say whether anyone managed to run away from the execution, but I think that one boyRuven Zeyger (who now lives in the Soviet Union)did succeed in escaping from the pits. People said that the Jews were forced to undress completely and lie in layers on one another, to be shot through with machine guns one group after another until they were all dead. Thus were murdered the largest portion of the Radzivilov Jews.
The Effort by the Youth to Organize
After the Germans had liquidated the not useful ghetto, the Jews understood that it would not be long until the Germans liquidated the useful Jews, too.
Reports reached us that here and there in Volhynia, the Germans were killing the whole Jewish population without differentiation.
A group of young people in the Radzivilov ghetto organized themselves: the Fayfel brothersShalom 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. The leader of the group was Asher Tsherkovski. I joined the group, too.
We used to meet and discuss how we might get weapons, what forms of resistance, and so on. Each of us thought that if the Germans wanted to liquidate the ghetto, we should put up an armed resistance. We also had to organize the other youth and flee to the forest to fight the Germans as partisans.
The Liquidation of the Second Ghetto
Five months had not passed since the liquidation of the not useful ghetto when news suddenly reached us that the Germans were about to completely liquidate the Razivilov Jews.
We had already heard that the Jews in Brody were living comparatively better than those in other towns. So when things became uneasy and people felt that the days of ghetto life were numbered, a lot of Jews fled to Brody. Most were young, especially those who were not tied to families.
In a few days, I think the end of October 1942that is, after some of the Jews had succeeded in escaping to Brodythe ghetto was suddenly surrounded by police and Germans, and just as in the first action, all the Jews were driven to the place across from the earlier mass graves. Prepared pits, already dug out, were waiting, and the remainder of the Radzivilov Jews were shot. The Germans had dug two pits but filled only one. The second pit is still empty to this day.
It is said that at the second action the Germans wanted to leave Viderhorn, the interpreter, alive, but he refused and wanted to perish with his family.
My parents, brothers, and sister were killed in the liquidation of the second ghetto.
I Flee to Brody
The night before the second action, I fled to Brody with my friend Genye Rayzman. The Germans had created a border between Brody and Radzivilov that divided Volhynia and Galicia, as it had been before World War I.
Many Jews who were running away from the Radzivilov ghetto toward Brody were caught and promptly shot.
My friend Rayzman and I arrived in Brody without incident. I will say that the Brody Judenrat did not accept the fleeing Radzivilov Jews in a friendly way.
Each time the Gestapo demanded workers from the Brody Judenrat, the Judenrat presented only Radzivilov Jews. Especially brutal and vexing to the Radzivilov Jews in the Brody ghetto were the Judenrat president's representative, Tsverling, and a Jewish policeman, Rubin.
Once when the Germans demanded a group of Jews from the Brody Judenrat to send out (you didn't know whether to work or to death), the Brody Judenrat placed my friend Chayim Feldman on the list of those to be sent out. Mendel Tsverling was riding in the same train car. They talked about cutting a hole in the car while they were on the journey and escaping through the hole. And so it happened: they cut out a hole near the door with a razorknife and opened the door, and many succeeded in jumping from the car and turning back to Brody.
When my friend and I arrived in Brody, we did not want to go into the ghetto.
We communicated with a friend of ours, Henekh Tishker, and with him, we dug out a bunker in his former residence. There were 30 men in that bunker, most of them young, among them five from Radzivilov: myself, Chayim Feldman, Leyb Kripitser (who was murdered), Yakov Paritski (who now lives in England) and Simche Zats (who lives in America).
The Bunker in Brody
The bunker was well made, equipped with everything we needed. There were two exits, both camouflaged. From the bunker, we kept in contact with friends in the ghetto and in other hideaways in the city.
As I already said, the bunker was located in Henekh Tishker's former apartment. A Christian who lived there provided us with food. We were in the bunker for about half a year. We understood that we could not stay for long in the bunker, so we made plans to leave the bunker and go out to the forest. We already knew that the partisans were based about 30 kilometers from Brody, in the Leshniov forest.
I Set Up Contact with the Partisans
I left the bunker and in a few days' time I arrived safely in the Leshniov forest. I succeeded in finding a group of armed partisans, mostly former Russian prisoners of war, Poles, and a few Jews. At first they did not trust me. They interrogated me, and after I had stayed with them for a few weeks, they gave me a revolver and an assignment: Go into the Brody ghetto and bring a troop of young people back to the partisans. The group of partisans numbered 20odd men and required highquality recruits, in order to develop the partisan movement that was fighting two enemiesthe Germans and the Ukrainian nationalists.
I Lead a Group of Jews out of Brody and into the Forest
For the first time, a friend from Lvov (whose family name I forget) and I went out armed, off to Brody in order to lead a group of Jews out to the forest. The Lvov friend went into the Brody ghetto to bring a group of Jews out, and I went off to the bunker to bring all the Jews to the forest. Both groups had to meet at one place. When I was already sitting in the bunker, we suddenly heard a shout from the Germans: Juden raus!! As I already said, there was an extra exit from the bunker. The Jews turned to that exit and wanted to run away. The Germans at that point started to chop out a bunker window that had been walled over. I quickly shouted, Wait, don't go out! I then shot three bullets in the direction where the Germans had chopped at the walledover window.
The Germans could not make a judgment about the shots; it caused them some confusion. They thought that there was a wellarmed group of partisans in the bunker. They ran off. I was first to run out and fired off several shots after the fleeing Germans and police. I ordered everyone to run after me.
Using the fleeing Germans' confusion, I succeeded in leading all 28 Jews through the city. I led them through side streets, past the cloister, toward to forest. So we got through the city of Brody safely and arrived in the forest.
The Lvov friend who went into the Brody ghetto to bring out a group of youths was caught during the night by the police, who conducted a sudden raid and killed him.
The Heroic Deed of a Radzivilov Youth
I want to mention that while I was sitting in the bunker in Brody, we had a case in which one Radzivilov youthHersh Marder, who escaped on his own from the Radzivilov ghettoand had already fought as a partisan with a weapon in his hands, was caught by the Germans.
They brought him to the Brody jail. The Brody jail was guarded by firefighters.
While sitting in jail, he was able to hide his revolver. Once when they were taking him to an interrogation, to the interrogation judge, he shot his guard along the way and ran off to the Brody ghetto.
When the Germans learned about it, they came into the Brody ghetto to search for him. The Germans let the Ukrainian police and firefighters take revenge on the Jews for shooting the guard.
The bandits rampaged in the Brody ghetto for half an hour, and many Jews were killed. That was in the beginning of 1943.
The Death of a Polish Provocateur
When we were in the bunker, at the moment when the Germans started shouting Juden raus!, Tishker recognized the voice of his neighbor, the Pole Yantshin, in the German shouting. After we had gotten out of the bunker in one piece, we decided to clean out the provocateur Yantshin before we went to the forest.
Tishker, Chayim Feldman, Simche Zats, Leyb Kripitser, and I turned back to Brody and went to Yantshin's apartment. Tishkerwho was Yantshin's neighborcalled him out of his home. When Yantshin was outside and realized that there were four more people besides Tishker, he was frightened. Tishker said to him, So since the Germans discovered the bunker and the people in the forest, we need food. I propose to you that you bring out food for the people who were in the bunker.
Yantshin answered, In my house I have only pork and some other food, but my neighbor has just baked bread, so I suggest you go in to the neighbor and take some bread, and meanwhile I'll bring out some pork. (We knew that there were a lot of Germans drinking whisky at the neighbor's house where he was sending us.) We told Yantshin, You go to the neighbor yourself and ask for bread.
(We realized that he would happily go to the neighbor and tell the Germans about us.) When Yantshin returned to the doorway, I shot him as he came out, putting several bullets in him (only I had a revolver). I laid out that despicable being where he stood. We fled immediately.
When the Germans heard shooting in the street, they ran out of the house, opened fire, but we had already escaped. Yantshin lay dead. We had finished our game.
The Jews' Friend, Sakovitsh
I will take this opportunity to say a few words about Sakovitsh, a friend to Jews.
While we were in the bunker in Brody, Tishker kept in contact with a wellknown Lithuanian man, Sakovitsh. He was a communist and a great friend to Jews. Indeed, he was the main supplier of food for the 28 Jews who were holed up in the bunker. He organized a network of Jewfriendly peasants who systematically delivered food to him for the Jews. Sakovitsh would give the food to one of Tishker's neighbors, and she would hand the food over to us. I will tell you more about Sakovitsh later.
We Lead 20 Jews out of the Brody Ghetto
In the forest, in spring 1943, the news reached us that the Germans were preparing to liquidate the Brody ghetto. In all of Volhynia, there were no ghettos existing at that time, and all the cities and towns in Volhynia, except for Brody, were already Judenrein [clean of Jews].
A friend and I went off to the Brody ghetto and were successful in getting 20 Jews out before the liquidation and bringing them to the partisans.
During the liquidation of the Brody ghetto, some Jews succeeded in escaping, and they later joined us.
Our detachment grew to about 100 men, in large part Jews. We had five Razivilov Jews in our detachment: myself, Feldman, Leyb Kripitser, Yakov Paritski, and Simche Zats.
My Partisan Activities
Our partisan detachment was the only one that operated in the neighborhood around Brody. We fought Germans and Ukrainian nationalists. We had no contact with any central partisan headquarters and dealt according to our own discretion and at our own responsibility. At the head of our detachment stood a former Russian Army captain, who had escaped from the fortress in Brisk (I do not know his family name, but his pseudonym was D. Tovarishtsh).
Our detachment was divided into four groups, with 25 men in each group. Each group had its commander. I was a commander of one such group. All five of the Radzivilov Jews I listed above were in my group.
As the Leshniov forest extended for some 15 to 20 kilometers and German wagon trains and gendarmes used to pass through it, we used to attack small groups of German gendarmes and police (we did not attack the larger groups). We carried out local operations, organizing food and weapons. The main partisan stronghold was based about 100 kilometers from us, in the area of Polesia. We did not, as I stated before, have any ties with them.
The Ukrainian Nationalist Division
The Germansponsored Ukrainian Nationalist Division was active in our area, calling itself Ukarainskaya Dobrovoltsheskaya Divizia. The division fought against the Red Army and skirmished with the Russian partisans. The division was a military formation under the direction of the S. D.
The Germans trained them in order to send them to the front, but they did not want to go to the front and wanted to proclaim an independent Ukraine.
They were scattered throughout the forest and later fought against the Germans.
We also had our people in the division. Zaluzshny, a Ukrainian, was stationed in division headquarters. In fact, he was a friend of the partisan movement. From him, we learned about their operative plans against the partisans,
Ukrainian Division headquarters did not know our actual strength, and they even wanted to establish a connection with us, knowing that we were fighting against the Germansthe common enemy.
Our commander sent out a threeman delegation on a mission to the Division, to say that we should not fight one another. I was one of the three men in delegation.
The Ukrainian Division headquarters was located about 10 kilometers from the town of Leshniov, 30 kilometers from Brody. Our negotiations brought good results: We spoke together about not fighting one another. Our and their groups operated without restraint in the same areas.
Zaluzshny explained his intent to get the Ukrainian Division leadership to talk with us about unification. He informed us that we should be careful. In the report that we submitted to our commander after the twoday deliberation with the Ukrainians, we also informed him that Zaluzshny had warned us that the Ukrainian headquarters was agreeable to stopping war operations between us, with the intent of learning about our actual strength, seizing our weapons, and later wiping us out.
That warning from Zaluzshny was later confirmed, and thanks to him we gradually prepared ourselves for an eventual unexpected attack from the Ukrainians.
The question of providing food for our detachment was a very difficult one. In the area where we were operating, so as not to incite hatred on the part of the peasants, we did not want to take their products by force, something that would cause a panic among the local population, and they would not treat us as partisans but as plain bandits.
That would also give the peasants an opportunity to help the Ukrainians wipe us out. For all these reasons, we were forced to operate on an economic basis in distant places. That stretched and fractured our notsogreat strength.
Our military intelligence group established contact with several local Poles, who later became our comrades, and they informed us about the mood of the local population.
After various successful and unsuccessful operations, our detachment had suffered great losses. In September 1943, 2,500 Germans suddenly had us surrounded. They blocked us in, and we had no chance to tear out of their circle. Probably someone had reported us. We resisted the attacking enemy with our last bit of strength. We suffered great losses in the heavy battle. The commander of our detachment was killed. From our entire detachment, there were only 11 partisans left8 Jews and 3 Russians.
I Am Wounded
I was badly wounded in the leg during one of the battles with the Ukrainians. I took four bullets and had to lie out for six weeks until I came back around to myself. I laid out at a known Pole's house, under the supervision of my dear friend Chayim Feldman, who did not leave my side for one minute.
During that time, when I lay wounded, our group carried out various tasks in the Poniekowice area.
Our acquaintance Zaluzshni's sister lived in the Poniekowice area; she was also a friend to Jews and was completely devoted to the partisans. She informed us that two Ukrainian leaders were in that area and pointed out the place where they were staying.
The Death of Radzivilov Youth Leyb Kripitser
We worked out a plan for how to liquidate the two Ukrainian leaders. Already knowing the place where they were, I sent out our group under the leadership of Mikolay Martshenko, a peasant from Zhitomir (I was still lying wounded) to kill the Ukrainian leaders.
After our group successfully arrived at the place where the Ukrainians were located, they surrounded the house, and bursting in, they shot the two Ukrainian leaders. After that bit of work, they went back to the Zaluzshny woman to spend the night.
The local Ukrainians, who saw how our group had killed the Ukrainian leaders, went spying and saw whole group go into the Zaluzshny house. That was a mistake. They promptly informed the Germans at the Brody garrison, who came immediately and surrounded the Zaluzshny woman's house.
Four of the people from our group were killed in heavy fightingtwo Russians and two Jews. Commander Martshenko was killed. Leyb Kripitser was badly wounded, and under heavy fire from the Germans, his friends carried him out of the house and brought him to us, where Chayim Feldman and I were. But when they arrived, Leyb Kripitser was no longer alive. He had died along the way. We hid him in the forest. So died one of the best from Radzivilov, Leyb Kripitser.
We that remained were a group of six people. Three of were killed in later battles. We were left a group of three ¬Chayim Feldman and me, and Eliahu Valakh from Brody.
We Turn Back to Brody
Once we were down to a group of three, it did not make any sense to stay in the forest. We were persecuted at every turn and step and had no chance of survival.
Eliahu Valakh had a sister in Brody who was hiding in a bunker along with 40 other Jews. We decided to go back to Brody and search out the bunker. Eliahu Valakh knew the location of the bunker, but the entrance was well disguised.
The Bunker in Brody
The bunker was in the very center of Brody, in a large fourstory house. There were a lot of Poles and Ukrainians living there. The Germans later learned that there was a bunker behind the house and that Jews were hiding out there, but they could never find the entrance to the bunker, and they did not want to blow up the whole house.
The bunker had been planned earlier by a Jewish engineer. Inside, it was a twostory living space with electric lights. There was running water and a sewage line.
When we arrived at the location of the bunker, we were able to locate the entrance because of our partisan experience. A few Jews came out to bring back food. We stopped the people, who were terrified and wanted to go back into the bunker. Eventually we all went in together. A horrible scene was revealed to us: 40odd Jews lay half swollen from hunger and unable to move at all.
Eliahu Valakh's sister quickly recognized us and was very happy that we had come. A Radzivilov Jew, Itshe Lerner, was also in that bunker.
We had gone into the bunker with weapons. While sitting in the bunker for a few days, we began to make a plan for what to do next, how to make our existence possible.
I made efforts to contact our friend and sympathizer Sakovitsh, a peasant with whom we had been in touch before, in Tishker's bunker, and with Yanek Stakhovski, a school friend of Tishker's.
We were able to make contact with them, and they agreed to help us with food within the limits of their possibilities.
The food they provided for us was not at all enough to feed 40some people. After a stormy meeting, we decided that the group of youths, 12 people, should carry out a partisan operation.
The Brody Jews who were staying in the bunker told us that there was a rich Ukrainian living on Train Street in Brody who had two stores of food products.
A Successful Operation
On Sylvester Night 194344, I led a group headed to the Ukrainian's. We knocked on the door and were let into the house. I spoke perfect Ukrainian (I had learned it well in the forest) and said, We have come from the Ukrainian Underground Movement. You are ordered to supply us with everything, including medicines, food, and clothing. I will give you time to assemble these things. Meanwhile, we will take everything we need. We will come back for the medicines at an appointed deadline. In case you speak to anyone about thisyou will pay with all your lives, and your house will go up in smoke.
The Ukrainian and his family were terrified. We took everything we possibly could. The Ukrainian, of course, did not stop us and offered no resistance. We also took his radio. We returned to the bunker after our successful operation, laden with good food. When the Jews recognized how much food we had brought, they all kissed us.
The people were happy that they could satisfy their hunger.
We set up the radio and heard that the front was nearing Sarny. The joy was great, but not for long.
The Germans Discover the Bunker
My friend Chayim Feldman and Eliahu Valakh's sister went out of the bunker to arrange something. At that moment, they noticed a group of armed Germans. The Germans chased them, wanting to detain them. They were lost and did not know what to do: run back to the bunker and tell everyone, or save everyone and give themselves up to the Germans? They chose the first: jump back into the bunker. The Germans opened fire, and Chayim Feldman was wounded in the leg. He ran up to me and told me briefly what had happened: the Germans had discovered the entrance to the bunker. There was no time to ponder. I shouted, Everyone get out of the bunker through the emergency exit! Since Chayim Feldman was wounded in the leg, I could not leave him there, of course. I carried him out of the bunker in my arms. Everyone had gotten out by way of the emergency exit. Luckily, we noticed two peasants driving an iron sled. As I had a weapon, I commandeered the sled from them, set Feldman in the sled, and drove off to Sakovitsh, who gave him first aid.
When the Germans tore into the bunker, they did not find anyone there but destroyed it with grenades.
When we arrived at Sakovitsh's and he saw so many Jews, he said he could not hide so many Jews, and was also afraid of being informed on by his neighbors, who could easily find out that he was hiding Jews, and he and his family would pay with their lives.
He was right. I decided to take the wounded Chayim Feldman and the group of Brody Jews away.
The Death of My Friend Chayim Feldman
At night, I led the group through the neighborhood of the former Brody ghetto. At that time, the front was nearing Brody, and German positions were set up all around the city. Not far from the area of the Brody ghetto, we ran into a group of armed Germans, who saw us and opened heavy fire on us. We withdrew to the ruins of the ghetto. But completely unexpectedly, we also ran into Germans in the ghetto territory. I set Feldman on a sled; the Germans opened fire on us. I shot back. At that moment, Feldman sprang up from the sled on one foot and disappeared someplace. We hid under the ruins of the ghetto. Later, we looked for Feldman for a long time but did not find him. The Germans were running and shooting without stopping. Feldman was probably captured, because he could not have run on one foot. I did not hear any more from Feldman. He was certainly killed then.
The loss of my best friend Chayim Feldman was for me the greatest loss of my life. We were loyal friends from childhood on, and as I have remarked, when I was wounded in the leg, Feldman stayed by my side for six weeks. I did the same for Feldman, but in that cursed minute I lost him forever.
The Death of Liza Kober
When the Germans opened fire on us in the area of the Brody ghetto, our group scattered. There remained only Eliahu Valakh and his sister, and also a Brody girl, Lize Kober.
That same night, we went into a cellar, and we decided to sit out the day in the cellar, leave Brody in the morning, and return to the Leshniov forest. We decided that Valakh's sister would go to the peasants we knew and bring us some kind of food. We would wait for her in the cellar.
We were noticed by some gentile men, and they turned us over to the Germans. Sitting in the cellar, we heard voices outside in Ukrainian pointing out the location of the cellar where we were lying in hiding. We saw that we could not wait long. We left the cellar. Lize Kober and I ran in one direction, and Eliahu Valakh ran in another. The Germans opened fire on us as we ran. At that moment, Lize Kober fell down. She had taken a bullet and was bleeding badly. She said to me, Run, save yourself, I am already lost. She remained lying there and died. This was in January 1944.
The Germans Chase after Me
I was running by myself, leaving behind the wounded Lize Kober. The Germans chased after me, shooting on every side. I ran several dozen meters. I dashed into a destroyed house, the Germans after me. I stood still behind a column in the building. When the first German ran in, I shot him and laid him out on the spot. I leapt up to the second story of the building and shot downward. The Germans were after me. I crawled down from the second story to the street and mixed in with the crowd.
I debated what to do. I decided to go back to Sakovitsh. I knocked on his door. He came out. I told him that I was alone. Sakovitsh told me that people in town were saying that some partisan had shot a German. I told him the whole story. Sakovitsh advised me, since it was not too late, to leave his house, as it was systematically spied on by both Ukrainians and Germans.
The Death of Zalozshny, the Jews' Friend
Having no other alternative, I set out for the Leshniov forest. Zaluzshny lived near there. I went to him, but to my great astonishment I found the house open. Inside, everything was demolished, broken. No one was in the house. I went over to other Poles that I knew and did not find anyone there either. I later found out that the Poles were afraid to spend the night in their houses, because the Ukrainian bandits were also attacking the Poles and murdering them. A Pole told me that a few days earlier, the Ukrainian Nationalists had killed Zaluzshny and his whole family because of his contacts with the partisans.
Alone in the Forest
I became a forest person. All alone, without family, without colleagues, without friends. It got very bad for me. Death lurked at every step and turn. I wandered from place to place for several months. At night I would knock on a peasant's door for something to eat. Finally, the Ukrainians traced me, but I had been careful and succeeded in escaping their claws.
It was March 15 or 20, 1944. I was a vagrant alone in the forest. Suddenly I heard Russian spoken. I thought that it was Ukrainian Nationalists. I tried to take cover, but they saw me. I decided to resist them, come what may, and aimed my revolver. The Russians raised their rifles at me, ready to shoot. I spoke to them in Russian. At first they took me for a German spy.
They took me to their headquarters, and along the way they beat me. They were the avant garde of the Soviet Army.
After a detailed interrogation, I explained who I was, and I asked them to take me into their detachment, because I wanted to fight the Germans to take revenge for the spilled blood of my murdered family. They wanted to send me into the back country, but I convinced them that I was determined to remain on the front. In the end, they added me to their detail, the 192nd Tashkent Division, 194 Strelkovi Regiment.
As a Fighter in the Soviet Army
The Soviet Army drove the Germans west, liberating Jews in towns and villages. The retreating Germans put up a bitter resistance.
In spring 1944, the offensive was renewed in our sector, and our detail approached Brody, liberating Gorokhov and Radziechów along the way.
In the battles to liberate Brody, many thousands of victims fell on both sides. The city of Brody defended itself against the German army with many Panzer tanks. Our army spent a whole month in fierce battle for the liberation of Brody. Later, an order arrived from General Headquarters to stop the offensive.
I Am Awarded for the First Time
Some six kilometers from Brody lies the village of Konyushkov. The village stands on top of a hill, and the Germans were shooting at us from there.
Our detail had received an order to bombard the village, which was held by the Germans. The point changed from hand to hand five times. The sixth time, when our detail was off in battle, the commander of the Rote Company was killed. Of the entire Rote, we were left with four soldiers and two machineguns.
We decided that we would not leave at any price and that we would hold the point. The Germans tried to attack us several times, but without success. We courageously defended it for 24 hours until fresh troops arrived. Thanks to our brave conduct, the point remained in our hands.
All four of us were awarded the Slava Order First Class. We still carried on fighting until the winter offensive was called off.
Until the summer offensive was renewedthat would be in July 1944we were sent to fight in the Brody region. During that time, I excelled many times, and the Soviet leadership wanted to send me to officers' school. This was July, 13, 1944. But on that same day, we learned that the summer offensive would begin the next day, July 14, 1944. I did not agree to being sent back to the interior for officer training, and I requested to remain at the front. I wanted to carry out my vow: to take revenge for my murdered family. I did not want to leave my position as long as it was possible to stay.
I Am Honored a Second Time
On July 14, the renewed summer offensive began for our division. At dawn, when everyone was impatient after the long waiting period, we went into battle. Within half an hour, our artillery, tanks, aviation, and other sections were all spitting fire and bombing the German positions. After the bombardment, all the other details went on the attack. The Germans responded to our infantry with heavy fire from machineguns and bazookas.
Our battalion could not push forward. Then I noticed the place where the Germans were raining fire on us. I turned to the battalion commander, Bayev, and asked for permission to silence the German machinegun. The commander gave his agreement. I crept toward the point of the fire and, along with my assistant, Arlov, opened fire from behind.
This caught the Germans completely by surprise. We destroyed the machinegun nest. Then our battalion could move forward without difficulty. For that operation, I was awarded a second time, with the order of the Red Star. Our 192nd Tashkent Division liberated Brody and other cities, towns, and villages. We turned back in the direction of Lvov.
I Lose My Right Leg
From the 14th to the 17th of July, we did not come up against any resistance. Near Lvov we encountered strong German forces that were defending the city.
Wanting to know what kind of strength the enemy possessed, Gretshko, the commander of our detachment, proposed that we send out some volunteers who could spy out the situation. Not many people volunteered, but I announced myself as a volunteer.
The commander assigned me a platoon of soldiers, and I led the platoon in the espionage mission. The Germans were shooting from all sides. I received an order: penetrate the enemy's position and fix their points of fire. When we closed in face to face with the Germans, a bitter battle began. Many fell on our side, dead and wounded.
I suddenly felt a strong impact in my right leg. It started to burn, and I was pouring blood. I lay on the battlefield for three hours, losing blood. The stretcherbearers could not reach me. The Germans continued to shoot up the area even though it was very close to the German position. Finally, our detachment succeeded in pushing the Germans out. The orderlies found me and carried me to the nearest field hospital in critical condition.
My right leg had been shot through with bullets, and the left leg was also wounded. At the field hospital, a surgeon promptly amputated the right leg, high above the knee. That was July 17, 1944.
I Am Evacuated to the Interior
After my leg had been amputated, I was taken to a military hospital in Rovno. I lay there for two weeks. The German advance bombed Rovno heavily, and all the seriously wounded were evacuated by medical train to the Caucasus. I was in critical condition the whole time.
Not having been transferred to Caucasus and being in such bad condition, I was sent by the surgeon on the medical train to a military hospital in Rostov. It was hospital number 4656. They put me directly into isolation, and none of the medical personnel believed that I would survive the crisis.
I lay in that hospital for nearly a year. Within that time, I regained my strength. I met another member of my battalion in that hospital too, who had been wounded by the Vistula River. He told me that after I had been wounded on the battlefield, many people in our division talked about me, singing my praises, and he told me that I had been raised to the highest award, the Order of the Red Banner.
Greetings from Radzivilov
I also met one of our Radzivilov boys Mendel Vaynshteyn (now located in Russia), in that hospital. He had signed out of the hospital earlier and gone back to Radzivilov. Later he came back to the hospital and let me know that a few survivors of the destruction of the Radzivilov Jews had returned to Radzivilov. Among them was my uncle Nechemye Porokhovnik (my father's brother, who died in Haifa on November 27, 1961).
Mendel Vaynshteyn also told me that all the Radzivilov Jews wanted to leave Russia and repatriate to Poland. Then I decided to sign myself out of the hospital and return to Radzivilov. The wound was still fresh and was not completely healed. The doctor refused to release me from the hospital. I appealed to the hospital chief, a Jew, Major Yakov Kelman. I explained to him why I wanted to be released from the hospital. He understood completely and issued an order that I be released.
While I was in the hospital, I married Gertrude Kalishnikova.
Return to Radzivilov
I arrived in Radzivilov on April 28, 1945, and there met my uncle Nechemye and all the other Jews who had saved themselves from death. They were all gathering to go back to Poland. My uncle and I decided not to return to Poland: I wanted to take revenge on the Ukrainian bandits who had murdered our family and caused so much trouble for the Jews.
I decided to take it upon myself to search out some Ukrainian murderers and turn them over to the NKVD.
After strenuous efforts and searching, I located some murderers, among them
The commander of the city police in Radzivilov, Mikhal Zuleski; his representative, Jefimczuk; a collaborator with the SD, Tushakovski; and the commander of the regional police, Zudanowski. They all took part in the murder of the Radzivilov Jews and were sentenced by a Soviet military tribunal to 25 years of hard labor.
Besides the heads, some smaller policemen, such as Demko and others, were also sentenced.
After they had all been sentenced, I felt that I had fulfilled my vowI had carried out my humane duty.
After the War
After the war, I worked for a few years in Rovno, Rovno district, until 1949. Our daughter Irit had been born in 1946, and our second daughter, Tova, was born in 1949.
In 1949, it was proposed to me that I go to work as director of the processing of raw materials in Radzivilov. I worked at that post in Radzivilov for more than half a year, but I could not live in Radzivilov. My dear family and all the other Radzivilov Jews had been killed there. I requested a transfer to another place and was sent to work in Zdolbunov. I worked in Zdolbunov from 1951 to 1954. In 1954, my wife and I decided to move to Ural. We settled in the city of Chelyabinsk. I lived there until 1956. During that time, I received a letter that saying that repatriation to Poland was being renewed. My family and I decided to go back to Poland.
In February 1957, we left Russia and came to Poland with the aim of traveling to Israel, where my uncle Nechemye lived, having arrived in the Land in 1948.
In Poland we settled in Breslau and lived in that city for seven weeks; at the end of April 1957, we left Poland and entered the Land.
Arriving in Israel, I first lived with my family for 10 months in Shaar HaAliya; later the Jewish Agency moved us to Holon.
Now I am an invalid, and I work in the Globus factory in Tel Aviv.
For the sake of information, I would like to add at the end that the chief gendarme in Radzivilov was Krauser.
by Leyb Ayzen
Translated by Tina Lunson
Spring comes, not far from Summer,
the sun illumes with her warm rays,
the birds in the trees sing their praises to God,
I see the woods, the fields, the meadows
decked out with grasses, flowers, all kinds of colors,
reminding me now of my shtetl
of Jewish life until death.
very lane, house and masonry building
Time forgets quickly, it happened only yesterday.
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