In the villages, in the forests and in battle
Translation by Rachel Zetland
Donated by Jay Snider
I want to live.
The sun is shining for me.
I want to be,
Even if it is setting,
Walking on the road.
A ray of light is piercing,
A. Schwartzblat Sarid
Reproduced by permission of Taylor & Francis Group.
Sir Martin Gilbert https://www.martingilbert.com/
by Sara Amas
Translated by Gabriella Schwartzshtein
Amongst the forests of Wolyn there existed a small, Jewish village. Each of the houses in this village - were surrounded by green gardens and fruit trees each emanating their own unique fragrances.
Jewish children, who came from traditional homes, were educated and raised with an emphasis on the Jewish traditions passed down through generations.
It was the Mother's role, within the family, to make certain that her child would be brought up with a strong attachment to the traditions. Thus, children were sent to Jewish day schools, lest they mingle with the Christian children.
Friday night was a sacred event in the child's week. They would see the table set carefully, with a white cloth, and see the Shabbat candles being lit. And after the candles were lit, the Mother would tell affectionate stories about the homeland stories which would incite within the child a love for Eretz Yisrael and a longing for its' distant shores located across the vast sea.
On one quiet morning, all seemed as usual, until suddenly a thunderous sound was heard: war had broken out. In a child's innocent mind the word war could not be understood as it had no real implications and seemed to be happening somewhere else, far away.
But when our village was captured by the Nazis (yemach she'mam) I understood the meaning of war and all of her proceedings. I especially came to terms with how the war impacted us Jews; our valuables were stolen, and our school Tarbut was shut down.
It was in that school that we cultivated a love for our homeland; starting from the learning of the Hebrew alef-bet. I loved my school, and at the cessation of my studies there I saw it as rudimentary to knit, as a gift to the school, a blue and white flag.
When I heard the word war, I desperately wanted to return that flag to my home; that blue and white flag; the national symbol that was so precious.
With great precision, and in the blink of an eye, the Jews were herded into the Ghetto; our house remained in the Ghetto. In it we housed our entire family, including our old and frail grandparents. Our situation was difficult, and yet in spite of this our Jewish heart would not relent and we were able to overcome our despair and to invigorate our propensity towards life.
Even in the difficult Ghetto conditions, Mothers continued to facilitate their children's education. I was sent to continue my studies with a private teacher.
Once, upon returning from one of my lessons, I overheard the news that the task of the digging of the pits had been completed with the intention that now the Jews would be annihilated.
There were cries and howls of young children, these were heard amongst the chaos, and yet there was not one Jew who could find refuge. I did not find a place to go. The German planes flew above us and we decided that, despite my young age, I would have to attempt to run away.
My grandmother approached, and proceeded to disguise me as a Christian. She plaited my hair into two braids, gave me her apron to wear, as well as a colourful floral shirt; and around my neck she placed a pearl necklace. And at the exit to my home she bid me to kiss the Mezuzah on the doorpost as a talisman for my success on my upcoming journey. She said to me: You may travel far and wide, to distant and strange lands, where you will be faced with foreign languages that you will need to acquire but in your heart never forget the Hebrew alef-bet that I taught you.
I took the journey upon myself and escaped as far away as I could with the main aim not to be led to the German slaughtering pit. Behind me, I left my parents; my warm and loving home; and everything that was precious to me.
And in the immediate days which followed, I became aware of the truth in my Grandmother's words to me. It was in fact true, I had drifted to strange lands; I had used foreign languages; but in my heart, I always remembered, that I am a Jew(ess)
by Avraham Appleboim
Translation by Sara Mages
The place and the time
The town of Old Rafalovka (Stara Rafalovka) is located in the Rovno Wolyn Oblast in western Ukraine near the Styr River, in the middle of the road between the two cities, Lutsk in the south and Pinsk in the north, a distance of about 150km from the western border on the Bug River. This border was set in September 1939 with the partition of Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union.
Old Rafalovka, a large Ukrainian village, numbered about 2,000 people. There were about 80 Jewish families, among them our family, a total of about 300 Jews. According to records a Jewish community was founded there 300 years ago.
The Rafalovka area was mostly ruralagricultural with an abundance of forests and water. The Ukrainian population for the most part was illiterate, lived in poverty and deprivation, its people were Provoslave Christians.
The town was located within the administration of the district New Rafalovka (Nova Rafalovka), a distance of 12km from the old town, on a dirt road.
The time June 1941 the armies of Nazi Germany armies invade the Soviet Union along all borders. A hastily withdrawal of the Red Army, the Soviet rule collapses. The Jewish community is very anxious about the threatening future.
The ghetto and the events in it
Our family moved to the ghetto in New Rafalowka along with the rest of the Jewish residents, members of the town of old Rafalovka, immediately after the holiday of Passover 5702, 1942, under the order of the Gebietskomissar, the commander of the German district who seat was in the city of Sarny.
We arrived at the new place of residence in the ghetto in a meager convoy of horsedrawn farmers carts, with baggage and the remainder of our belongings, what was left after the pogrom and robbery, which were carried out by local farmers and farmers from the surrounding villages for a number of weeks, from the German invasion until the establishment of the local Ukrainian rule under German auspices (from the beginning of July 1941 until the end of the month).
Some of the items that remained from the robbery were sold for living needs, or exchanged for silver and gold coins to pay ransom quotas (contribution) imposed on the Jewish community.
Most of us walked next to the carts on the main dirt road, a distance of 1214km to New Rafalovka, where the ghetto was established for the local Jews and Jews from the surrounding towns and villages.
Next to our family's cart was the cart of the Yarzon family, our relatives and friends. On the cart lay their daughter Sarah, who was mortally ill and died in the ghetto shortly afterwards. In the ghetto in New Rafalowka gathered the local Jews and also residents of the surrounding towns Old Rafalovka about 80 families, Zoludzk, Olizarka, Bilska Volya,
and other villages, a total of 2,500 people. All of them crowded in the original residential area of the Jews of New Rafalovka, mostly in the town center. Each family was allocated one room and sometimes even less than that.
The ghetto was open, without fences. It was forbidden to leave it, except with the permission of the GermanUkrainian police, or with the escort of a Jewish policeman from the Judenrat police. The Jewish policemen wore a yellow ribbon on their sleeves with the words: Juden Poliezi. The Jews wore a yellow 9 centimeter yellow badge on the back of their outer garment and another yellow badge on the left side of the chest. This decree was imposed on the Jewish public after the High Holidays of 5702.
The men, as well as boys and girls, were employed in various forced labor in the surrounding forests, in wood processing plants, the repair of the railroad track near the train station, the construction of the railway bridge over the Styr River near the village of Polonna, and in various employments wherever required.
A considerable part of the ghetto population was employed in services and crafts, in which they also engaged in the past, such as: blacksmiths, carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, etc. I also worked during my time in the ghetto in the carpentry shop of the lumber processing plant. With the entry of the Germans into our area, I acquired a partial knowledge of the carpentry profession in my work as an apprentice for the carpenters Benyamin Resnick and the Kushner family, our neighbors in Old Rafalovka.
In retrospect, I must note that my life was saved thanks to my knowledge in the carpentry profession (even partially) and I will tell about it later.
In addition to my work as a carpenter, I worked in the forests across the Styr River, near the village of Chudlya, in the construction of a wooden bridge over the Styr River near the village of Polonne for the railroad track Kovel Sarny. To this place I left the ghetto several times with the work company, which numbered 60 men. The steel bridge, which was there earlier, was blown up by a sabotage unit of the retreating Red Army.
It would be told here, that one day a work company did not return to the ghetto. Later, it became clear that the Jews in the town of Chertorisk had been killed on that day. The Germans added the 60 workers, who worked on the bridge, to the Jews of Chertorisk who had been sentenced to death. Malkiel Shirman, one of the bravest young men in town, was murdered with this group. He served as an escort officer for the workers' group. It all happened at the beginning of August 1942.
The Judenrat in Rafalovka complained to the local German commander about the attack on the ghetto people who were engaged in vital work, and they have been told that it was a mistake and it would not happen again. A few days later anew group of workers was sent to work on the bridge over the Styr River.
At the request of the local authorities, some Jews were allowed to return to their previous places of residence so that they could continue to serve the local Ukrainian population in areas such as blacksmiths, carpenters, tailors, foresters, pharmacists and more. Their family members remained in the ghetto. On weekends, the outside workers returned to the ghetto carrying in their bags food products that they had received from their rural customers in exchange for their work. The condition of these families was much better than most of the ghetto population, which was in dire straits due to the severe food shortages.
As mentioned, the Jews engaged in all kinds of work, in and out of the ghetto, without being paid, and in some cases for a paltry wage which was not enough to purchase food. From time to time, the Judenrat distributed bread to families in the ghetto. It was very difficult to get a ration of bread because of the overcrowding and the disorder that prevailed at the place of distribution.
Most of the ghetto residents were helped by exchanging items for essential foodstuffs with the gentiles in the area. There were some wealthy families who managed to secretly transfer some of their property to the families of Ukrainian or Polish friends, and it served as a source of supply for them.
The basic foodstuff that was possible to obtain were mainly: potatoes, grits, legumes, a little flour, bran and bread. We barely tasted meat for months. Despite the life of distress, humiliation and oppression, the Jewish population did not despair, struggled for its existence and developed a tolerable lifestyle with a faint hope for better times.
The entire Jewish population was immersed in the effort of daily existence. Family life, according to customs and traditions, hardly existed. We did not feel a guiding hand in the communitypublic and religiousJewish field, apart from the activities of the Judenrat.
Feelings of helplessness to improve the situation, and difficult question marks about what awaited us, stuck with us all. Sadness and gloom towered over all. However there was no despair and no panic.
Here is, perhaps, the place for a story that I have heard from Leibel Yarcion, a native of the town, today a resident of Brazil who recently visited Israel, and so it was:
My mother, Hania, came to the home of the Yarcion family in the ghetto to comfort mourners after the death of his sister, Sarah. There, she met her friend, Hannah the mother, bitterly weeping over the loss of her daughter. My mother told her in strangled tears: Hannah, your daughter died of a fatal disease and was brought to the Jewish cemetery for burial according to Jewish tradition. What fate awaits us? They are going to destroy us and no one will know where our bones are.
In the ghetto, I saw in my imagination the sight of the death of my sister, Pearl, at the age of eight, and her burial in the town cemetery. I thought that God had done her a favor and she would not have to stand the test that was expected of me.
Towards the end of August 1942 (before the liquidation of the ghetto), our family situation was like this: My father Moshe zl, forty five years old, worked with a group of Jewish workers in forestry work near the village of Sopachiv, 1517km from the ghetto. My twenty year old brother, Shmuel, worked as an interpreter in the office of the Ministry of Farm and Forestry (WirtschaftsCommando) that its place was in Old Rafalovka, 12km from the ghetto. I was seventeen at that time, worked in the carpentry shop outside the ghetto, across the railroad tracks in New Rafalovka. My fourteen and a half year old brother, Leibel zl, worked with a team repairing small bridges and crossings of the KovelSarny railroad and other jobs. My mother Henia, about forty two, my sister Leah, thirteen years old, and grandmother Pesia, my father's mother, remained in the ghetto and worked on the essential household needs that it was still possible to engage in.
Our family lived in the home of Meshel Brezniak's sister (chairman of the Judenrat) in the town center not far from the train station.
Closure of the ghetto and attempts to escape from it
At the beginning of the week of the end of the month of August 1942, the ghetto was surrounded by a larger number of Ukrainian police guards, some of whom were brought from other settlements in the area. In addition, the Jews who engaged in outside work began to be returned to the ghetto.
That same week, the ghetto received reliable information regarding the excavation of pits on a hill near the village of Sukovolya, about 3km west of New Rafalovka. There was no doubt as to the purpose for which the pits were dug. Ukrainian friends sent information to the ghetto that the Germans were about to exterminate all the Jews in the ghetto. They reported that there are preparations in the area, digging pits, concentration of auxiliary forces from the Ukrainian police, recruitment of wagons, etc.
At that time my father and my brother Shmuel were out of the ghetto. One day that week, the blacksmiths returned to the ghetto from Old Rafalovka. I remember, that when I visited my friend, Moshe Goldberg, his father Leizer, who was among the blacksmiths that were brought back to the ghetto, told me that my brother Shmuel, who was with them, managed to escape from the guards who accompanied them on their walk back to the ghetto. I was happy in my heart that my brother Samuel managed to escape. At that time, my father was with a group of Jews who were employed in various arduous jobs in a forest site called Romanovka (between the villages of Babka and Sopachiv). He managed to escape together with the men of the group and did not return to the surrounded ghetto.
During that week I tried several times, together with groups of different people, to escape from the ghetto, but without success. One night we tried to slip away through the path next the home of the Zask family, right near the forest. A policeman we knew, Ivan Palamarchuk from our town, was stationed there. Yisrael Resnik, our neighbor from Old Rafalovka, negotiated with him but without success.
Because of the Ukrainian sentries, which were placed around the town, we did not make a bold attempt of breaking out of the town, and in retrospect I believe it was possible to do so. Quite a few managed to escape from the ghetto between shifts, some with the help of local friends.
There were reports of the capture of escapees, the beatings they received, and also about Jews who were shot to death while trying to escape from the ghetto.
With my best friend, Moshe Goldberg zl, I tried to escape from the ghetto in the afternoon, in the direction of the village of Polonne, by crossing the railroad tracks southwest of the town, while trying to bribe a Ukrainian policeman who stood there. The policeman refused to accept the compensation from us: processed leather for a pair of boots (a rare and expensive commodity), and several packs of tobacco. I must point out that he did not harm us. We returned to the ghetto in despair, as we had come.
The escape plan, which nestled in my head, was to cross the forests in the direction of Old Rafalovka and ask for help from the Cybulski family, from a family friend, or from one of the Ukrainian friends we studied with at school. My intention was to reach the village of Sopachiv, about 5km north of Old Rafalovka, in which, and around it, we saw a relatively safe place of refuge and expected to get help there.
On the same week, the daughter of Mrs. Goldbiter, our neighbor in the ghetto, escaped from the ghetto. She arrived in Old Rafalovka and with the help of a family friend returned to the ghetto to try to take her mother and little brother out of the ghetto dressed as peasants from the area and with wicker baskets on their backs.
I talked to the daughter and she told me that she left the ghetto on the main road to Old Rafalovka where met policemen, but they did not stop her. The situation was different when she went out again. She walked a few dozen meters ahead of her mother and managed to get past the guards, while mother and her younger brother were stopped by Ukrainian policemen. The mother was severely beaten and had to return hurt and injured with her young son to the house where we lived in the ghetto. She told us about the hardships she had gone through. Despite the peasant's clothes and the handkerchief on her head, her features betrayed her and exposed her origin. As mentioned, her daughter, who was twelve years old then, managed to get out of the ghetto to a place of safety in Old Rafalovka.
The Goldbiter family arrived in the town of Old Rafalovka during the Soviet rule from the town of Czartorysk and settled there. The family members spoke Polish to each other, a matter that was not acceptable to us. Her husband, who was an educated man, was employed in the surrounding forests as a professional for forests and trees. In the past, Mrs. Goldbiter worked a teacher in the Polish school in the town of Czartorysk. Her husband was arrested at the beginning of the German rule in the place, transferred to a camp near Rivne and his fate was unknown. With the displacement of the Jewish community from Old Rafalovka into the ghetto, Mrs. Goldbiter moved with her two children, a daughter and an infant son, and we were neighbors in the same house in the ghetto. There were reports of individuals and families who escaped from the ghetto in all sorts of forms, some with the help of Ukrainian and Polish peasant friends.
The feeling in the ghetto was of helplessness and the proximity of the end. On Friday, the day before the liquidation of the ghetto, we learned that the son of Meshel Brezniak, the chairman of the Judenrat, tried to commit suicide with the members of his family by swallowing poison. The result was, the poison did not work on the parents while their children died and were buried in the yard of their home.
We heard about another suicide case of Mr. Warman, a professional in the forestry industry. He committed the act outside the ghetto, in the forest where he worked, after failing to get his family, his wife and daughter, out of the ghetto. The Warman family was a refugee family, who arrived to us from central Poland when the Germans invaded Poland, and lived in Old Rafalovka.
We knew about the construction of hiding places in houses, basements, barns, warehouses, etc. The chances of getting out of these places safely were slim. The instinct of existence and survival preoccupied us all and flowed in our minds, we knew we were left with no way out and no savior.
Throughout my time in the ghetto I had nightmares. The dreams ended in escaping and getting out of trouble. In the morning I woke up exhausted and physically and mentally drained from the struggles in the dreams and the bitter reality. I guess that many in the ghetto had the same difficult experiences.
In the last weeks before the ghetto was liquidated, we were all very depressed. Information arrived on the liquidation of ghettos and the murder of Jews in the near and far vicinity. At night we sleep in our clothes for fear that something would happen.
We did not hold talks and consultations about escape plans, about a possible meeting place outside the ghetto, about receiving housing assistance from gentile friends. And there were some, though not many, but there were.
What to do to save our lives
In the midst of all the events I also thought of a hiding place for myself and my family. I thought of possible hiding places such as: the attic, the toilet outside the house, the nearby barn, an empty tank, which was used to store crude oil, located in a tank farm across the railroad tracks. Of all of these, I chose the attic of the house where we lived. The idea, which came to me as a flash, was to build a double partition in the attic, in the part facing the garden and the yard. The front part of the house, which ended at an angle, turned onto the main street which served as the ghetto border parallel to the railroad track.
I involved the family in the personal operation of the beginning of the construction of the shelter, a hiding place in the attic, with the thought that we might need such a shelter in a time of need, despite the slim chance to save our lives.
In the house opposite, across the street, was a hostel of German soldiers from the Corps of Engineers an organization called T.O.D, which engaged in the construction of various facilities for the German army in the battlefront and in the rear. The unit, which was stationed here, built the bridge over the River Styr near the village of Polonne.
From various planks that I dismantled from fences in the backyards, and with the help of simple tools saw, hammer and old nails, I built a double partition in the attic.
The structure of the partition triangular, the length of the base was 67 meters (as the width of the house), the height at the top about 2 meters. The width of the hideout, between the outer wall of the roof and the partition that I built, was about 2 meters. At the entrance to the hideout, in the left corner, was a hidden door that was easy to move. To the inner lintel of the small window, which was on the outer wall of the hideout, I tied a rope, so that I could dangle with its help into the backyard in case of a breakin into the hideout.
I mostly worked when it was raining and when lightning storms hit the area. They were used to cover the noise of sawing and the knocks of the hammer. I revealed the secret of the building of the hideout to my friend Musia Brezniak, the son of our neighbor Wola Brezniak, a vigilant and intelligent boy about fifteen years old. Without hesitation he volunteered to help me, and in several weeks of work we built the hideout. It was ready when the town was surrounded by police guards and the ghetto was closed for exit.
The end is near
As mentioned, the ghetto was closed on Monday 24.8.1942, by guards of the local Ukrainian police who were reinforced by police forces from the area, and placed around the town. No one was able to leave ghetto. Various work groups, and individuals, who were employed outside the ghetto area, were brought back under police escort.
The ghetto was not guarded in the four months of its existence. When the ghetto, and the town of Rafalovka, were surrounded by police guards, it was clear that this was its end and its elimination. Rumors were circulating about the planning of a revolt, which will be expressed in the burning of the ghetto, and the commotion that will be created will allow a mass escape.
These thoughts were rejected on the grounds of unnecessary suicide, as long as there is a chance, even the slightest, that the matter will end in another way. A rumor spread that the reason for placing the guards was to conduct a census of the ghetto population. Indeed, in the past, several censuses were held in the town square. In retrospect, it can be said that they were diversionary actions on the part of the Germans to what awaits the Jews of the ghetto. Towards the end of the week the atmosphere in the ghetto was difficult and depressing, a feeling of hopelessness and the impending end. However, there was no fear and panic.
On Friday of that week, on Sabbath eve, my friend, Hania Kusznir, came to our house. We sat in the garden facing the courtyard. It was a farewell meeting. We both knew we would never see each other again. I told her about the hideout and invited her to come and hide in it. Hania refused, saying that she did not want to part with her family. Hania, her mother Luba (of the Brick family), her sister Riva and her brother Yisrael all perished.
On the same Sabbath eve, we felt that tomorrow, on the Sabbath, the ghetto would be liquidated, and this according to the signs of preparations outside the ghetto and the preparations of the Polish and Ukrainian neighbors. Near the gendarmerie headquarters was a large concentration of policemen and farmers wagons that were brought for an unknown purpose. When it got dark, the occupants of the house, and several neighbors from a nearby house, slowly and quietly started to enter the hideout in the attic, to stay there for the night, just in case something would happen.
That night there were several families with children in the hideout: my mother Hania, my brother Leibel, my sister Leah, my grandmother Pesia and myself. My mother's sister, Fruma Yedushlibi and her daughter Pearl, the homeowner (Wola Brezniak's sister), her daughter Slater and her son, my friend Moshe Goldberg and my friend and helper Musia Brezniak.
Some of the people who crowded in the hideout brought some food and drinking water with them. I closed the partition door. It was crowded, the air was compressed and the sour smell of sweat spread. In August the days and nights are very hot and it is doubtful that we would have stayed there for even one day. Everyone somehow got organized for the night mostly lying curled up without bedding on the uncovered planks.
Early in the morning, on Saturday, we heard noises and calls to get out of the houses and gather in the town square for a roll call. I heard the voice of the homeowner, Mrs. Tshudler, who informed, in the name of her brother Meshel, chairman of the Judenrat, that it is obligatory to come out of hiding because they know of their existence and those who hide will be executed. We hesitated a bit and started to get out of the hideout and from the house into the yard.
Over the fence I saw R' Yona Rosenfeld zl accompanied by some of his family members. The Rosenfeld family lived in the ghetto at the home of Wola Brezniak next to our house. R' Yona was dressed in Shabbat clothes and black capote. I heard him say that he and his family observe the Shabbat customs despite the desperate situation, and he returned to his home.
Earlier, the little sister of my friend Moshe Goldberg zl, Fradel was her name, appeared in the yard and called him to return to his family, and so he did. As mentioned, we left the hideout, families and individuals, and began to move from the garden to the houses inner courtyards towards the place of concentration, a distance of a few hundred meters. We walked together my mother Hania, my grandmother Pesia, my sister Leah, my brother Leibel and I. My aunt Fruma and her daughter Pearl walked next to us. We got closer to a passage in the fence, a distance of about 30 meters from the house. We stopped for a moment, and then my grandmother Pesia zl turned to me and said in Yiddish Avraham, go back to the hideout, maybe you will be saved.
We hugged, exchanged sad looks of farewell and in the process I turned back. Here I separated from my loved ones forever. They continued on the path leading to the main road and joined the terrible procession of all the residents of the ghetto, to their last journey, on foot, to the killing ravine in the hills of the village of Sukhovolya, a distance of about 3km. Here and there shots were heard, shouts and continuous silent cries.
Back to the hideout and what next
I returned and climbed to the hideout and found my friend Musia and Mrs. Godlbiter there. I closed the small door and we stopped breathing. I removed the yellow badge from the cloth. It wasn't long before we heard footsteps ascending the staircase leading to the attic. Apparently, they were policemen or just gentile neighbors in search of hiding Jews and Jewish property.
This was repeated for hours, but they did not reach the partition of the hideout. Due to the darkness and emptiness they lit matches to see better, but the partition I built hid the outside window facing the garden. Occasionally we heard gunshots, screams, beatings and crying in a terrifying jumble. We understood that Jews had been caught trying to hide in nearby houses in makeshift places.
As early as noon they began to fill our house with furniture and objects they had collected from other houses. Apparently, the same was done in several places in the emptied ghetto. I was afraid that the house would be locked and maybe a guard would be placed on the property collected inside it. Luckily this did not happen. On the other hand, I thought that it could serve as a barrier to searches in the house where we were hiding.
On Saturday afternoon, the visits and searches in the house stopped in preparation for Sunday, the day of rest for Poles and Ukrainians. The next day, Sunday, we heard singing voices from the streets. Some of the gentile population celebrated the liquidation of the ghetto in drinking and in rampage. For the first time I heard the rattling of train wheels coming from the west, and I realized that the railway bridge over the Styr River had been completed.
On Tuesday, after the liquidation of the ghetto, late in the evening, Musia Brezniak came out of the hideout. He wanted to sneak through the inner yards to a house where a Polish family lived, friends of the family, which was located not far from the hideout. His intention was to receive information and assistance in escaping from the ghetto. He promised to come back to tell us what was going on outside, and especially if the empty ghetto was guarded.
I was afraid that something might happen to him and he would be forced to betray us. Musia did not return to hideout. Later, we found out that the family friends warned him not to stay in the ghetto and directed him to the village where his father, Wola Brezniak, was hiding.
The next night, Mrs. Goldbiter and I, went down from the attic to the backyard. We picked beets and another vegetable that we found in the garden and ate as much as we could. We had no other food. We were there for a short while and it was terribly quiet all around. We did not feel any guards or sentries in the area and then returned to the shelter. We had to decide when to leave the hideout, and we decided to postpone the departure until Friday, a week after the liquidation of the ghetto, and so it was.
Reflections and thoughts during my stay in hiding
The first shock dissipated a little. Thoughts chased thoughts, I asked myself what to do if they discover the hideout? Try to escape? It is better to be hurt while escaping than being led humiliated to the killing place. There are no choices and no way out. The senses are sharpened and the instinct for existence and survival works.
I was preoccupied with thoughts and questions related to faith and religion into which we were born and educated. We kept a considerable part of the mitzvot, is this punishment for various sins and nonobservance of the mitzvot? Maybe I should take a vow to observe the Sabbath if I get out of this hell? Terrible things are happening and the world continues to exist how can that be like that? The earth did not shake, and there's no divine voice and no miracle.
I hoped: maybe my brother Leibel, who was a very clever and agile boy, managed to escape the procession. For some reason his image disappeared from the picture of the separation from the family to this day. A few years ago my friend, Sander Schwarzblatt, one of the town's survivors, told me that he saw, from his hideout under a roadside bridge, my mother and the rest of the family marching on their last journey. This was the last time that anyone, who remained alive, saw them.
So, where are our loved ones? Could they have been murdered? Why? What was their crime? Maybe a miracle happened and they survived. And so a thought chased a thought, reflections, images and strange ideas.
The main thing I was busy planning to leave the place and move to a safe place. Are there a guards or not?, the day of departure, the escape route, the destination, surprises along the way, etc.
Some details about the situation inside the hideout
We had a little dry bread and water, leftovers from what the people brought to the hideout on Saturday night and left in the morning. Twice at night I went down from the hideout in the attic to the garden in the yard and brought some vegetables from there.
There was a bucket for our needs. Its use was minimal and we controlled ourselves as much as possible. We were afraid that the odors might leak out and betray us, even though the bucket was sealed with a lid and rags.
During the day it was difficult to breathe from the heat, and the drizzle of rain aggravated the suffocation. I prayed for the darkness of the night, the rain and the thunderstorm during the day. I saw them as if they were protecting us. The senses are sharp, the tension is there and sleep is not sleep.
As mentioned, the plan of getting out of the liquidated ghetto, the destination and the transit routes, kept me very busy in the hideout. There was no point in sharing our plans and getting advice from each other. We did not talk and only whispered, here and there, about things that seemed important.
Musia's escape route was different from mine, Mrs. Goldbiter wanted, if possible, to join her daughter who was hidden by a family of friends in Old Rafalovka. That was also my direction.
The plan of leaving the ghetto
The thought that was eventually formulated was, to arrive at the home of a Ukrainian farmer named Andrei Darvianchik, who lived in a khutor [a single homestead settlement] in the village of Sopachiv. Andrei Darvianchik was called, the wooden man, because both his legs were amputated above the knees and in their place a kind of wooden prosthesis were attached to the stumps. He lost his legs in the First World War as a combat soldier in the Russian Tsar's army.
This farmer and his family members were close friends to our family for years. He lived in a wooden cottage in one of the remote khutors (Dubrowki) of the village of Sopachiv, near the Styr River. The walking distance from the ghetto, on a dirt road, was about 20km on a rout that was, more or less, familiar to me: departure from the village of New Rafalovka in a westerly direction to the village of Sukovolya while passing through a forest belt, a distance of about 4km. Then, crossing a second plot of forest in the direction of Old Rafalovka, a distance of about 9km, heading north, bypassing the town through alleys and paths, parallel to the main road, towards the northern exit on the road to the village Babka, a distance of about 4km. Crossing the village of Babka along its length in the direction of Sopachiv, my desired destination, a distance of 45km.
I thought that if I did not make it all the way that night, I would try to find shelter for the day in Old Rafalovka. I had no clear alternative to Andrei Darvianchik, but I thought that if I got to Sopachiv I would get a temporary shelter for a day or two from an anonymous family, until I make another arrangement, or find my father and my brother Shmuel.
A concise description of the village of Sopachiv and its people
I visited Andrei's khutor at least once. This farmer and his family were guests of our home in Old Rafalovka at least once a month when Andrei arrived with his horsedrawn wagon, usually with his wife, son and daughter, to receive his disabled veteran pension payment at the local post office. The prostheses were of a type that did not allow him to move. His son carried him on his back and brought him from the wagon to his destination.
In the summer he lowered his father into a boat and he fished all day in the Styr River near his home. The fish were dried and used as food. The surplus was exchanged for other food products.
Most of the farmers of the village of Sopachiv were our buyers, including the village's two Polish teachers. They used to buy in our store on credit and exchange goods for various groceries, from salted fish to fabrics and clothes. On their holidays, when they came to pray at the local church, they used to stay in our house and eat the food they brought with them. Quite a few couples from the same village held their wedding feasts in our house, after they got married in the local Provoslave [Russian Orthodox] Church.
Most of the residents of the village of Sopachiv, Ukrainian farmers, lived in poverty. They knew the members of my family well and friendly relationship was developed between us over the years. Our house served as a place of rest for them, and a meeting place during their holidays and bazaar days. The samovar, with the boiling water, stood on the table and the food and the tea were ready. They parked their wagons, watered and fed the horses. We, the children, did not know them by name, but they knew us well and called us in Ukrainian language Mevshikov synu, meaning: son of Moshe.
In this village lived several Jewish families, who were transferred to New Rafalovka Ghetto. I was convinced, that some of the ghetto survivors would seek refuge in this village, and among them my father and brother, if they were not caught on their escape routes. Later, this assumption was found to be correct.
The departure from the hideout a journey to freedom
I packed in a backpack that I had with me some essential items found at the place: a mug, a manual razor (of a barber) and white cloth that grandmother Pesia kept for shrouds for many years. Mrs. Goldbiter also collected some of her belongings in preparation for the departure.
On Friday night, 4.6.1942, at about eleven o'clock at night we left the hiding place with heavy fears in the heart and with a hope for rescue. It was a moonlit night, the end of third week of the month of Elul. In the gardens' paths, and in the yards of the empty Jewish houses, which were open in all directions, were scenes of a pogrom, belongings and clothes which were thrown from the apartments. We walked quietly to the main road a dirt road outside the ghetto.
Luckily, we did not encounter a single living soul, only when we came out of hiding we saw two people walking along the sidewalk near the house where we lived in the ghetto. It was a German military man accompanied by the daughter of Dr. Popov whose voice I knew. He was a wellknown physician in Rafalovka and the surrounding area and many Jews needed his care. We clung to the wall of a house until they left and then we continued.
Through the passages between the gardens we reached the yard of the house where Musia Brezniak, who had left us a few days before, was supposed to get help. We were thirsty and drank from the water trough that was in the place and used by the homeowner's animals. We approached the building of the post office, which was among the first buildings at the entrance to New Rafalovka. We did not encounter guards.
We walked in a path along the main road out of town. We approached the first forest plot and crossed it after a walk of about 2km. The road was familiar to us and we continued on it and arrived in the village of Sukovolya. We walked on the left side of the road. This was the side of the hill to which the Jews of Rafalovka Ghetto were led, and on which they were shot into a mass grave. The feeling was hard. I looked towards the top of the hill, a distance of about 200 meters. A blanket of mists covered the hill above the graves of our loved ones, and the heart wept…
As mentioned, it was a moonlit night and the visibility was good. We continued with a brisk walk west in the direction of Old Rafalovka. Along the path of the main road grew bushes at human height, like a hedge. The houses of the village of Sukovolya were scattered across the road to our right.
We walked and got closer to the second forest plot at the exit of the village of Sukovolya. When we were about 200 meters from the edge of the forest, I suddenly heard behind us the creaking of carts traveling on the dirt road. We stopped and hid behind the bushes until the caravan passed. There were 56 horsedrawn carts there. I noticed carters talking to each other in the Ukrainian language. We waited at the place for about a quarter of an hour and then noticed another cart following the caravan that had passed earlier. When it moved away, we got up and continued our walk in a path parallel to the dirt road.
We approached the starting line of the forest and then we heard the sounds and shouts of people not far from us. We stopped at the place. I assessed the situation and came to the conclusion that we might run into danger if we continued on the road. In my imagination I imagined a group of shepherds, or local farmers, maybe drunk, who settled in the place we had to pass.
In order not to lose time, I immediately decided to change direction instead of continuing west to Old Rafalovka, to bypass it by walking through the village Chudlya heading north, a distance of about 4km, and from here north again, to the village of Sopachiv, my destination, a distance of about 3km.
Therefore, we crossed the dirt road in the place where we stopped, almost at the edge of the forest in a northerly direction to the village of Chudlya. After about half a kilometer we approached an isolated wooden house of a local farmer. I was not sure if we were on the right path, and decided to dare and knock on the door of the house to find out if this the road to the village of Chudlya and the direction of the passage through the forest. I was equipped with a wooden pole, which I found there, as a means of protection and approached the house.
I did not manage to get close to the wooden balcony and suddenly the door opened and a young farmer, dressed in homemade linen cloths, came out of the doorway. He flinched a little when he saw us. Hesitantly, I asked him for the direction of the road. He said that we were at the entrance to the village of Chudlya and explained the direction for the crossing in the forest. We left the place quickly. I thought that the man got up from his sleep and went out to urinate as was customary in the villages and towns in this area.
The road led us along the whole village. In the center stood a waterwell made of wooden beams. We were thirsty. I drew water with the help of a cup that I tied to the end of the pole that is lowered into the well. We drank the water and continued on our way towards the edge of the forest.
We entered deep into the forest. We walked on the path next to the cart road. The treetops obscured the moonlight. Doubt crept into our hearts and we were afraid to deviate to paths that occasionally branched off from the main road. After walking for a while, I noticed a clearing on which stood a big house and cowsheds inside a fenced yard. It was the home of the local forester and his family. I knew the place from the times I worked in the area with groups of Jewish workers who were sent from the ghetto. Knowing the place gave me confidence that we were walking in the right direction.
We crossed the forest thicket. I estimate that its width in this section was about 4km, and immediately afterwards we approached rows of tall bushes at the edge of the forest and again we set out on a dirt road. After a further 3km walk west, we noticed a few houses of a village and I assumed that they belonged to the village of Babka.
In the dark, before dawn, we found ourselves at the entrance to a farmer's yard. As we got closer I noticed a wagon laden with hay and on it a silhouette of a man with a pitchfork in his hands unloading hay into the barn. The farmer stopped his work and looked at us. I greeted him in the Ukrainian language and told him, without hesitation, that I was from the town of Old Rafalovka and my father's name is Moshe, Mevshikov in their language, the only way he could recognize me, if at all. I asked him to guide us to the road leading to the village of Sopachiv.
The farmer got off the haystack on the wagon and invited me to his house. He woke his wife and ordered her to give me bread and milk. He told me that my father went the same way and came to his house to ask for help. I shared the food with Mrs. Goldbiter who was with me. After a short rest, the farmer led us out of his yard and guided us in the direction of the khutor called Dubrowki in the village of Sopachiv.
Here, I parted from Mrs. Goldbiter, who continued in the direction of Old Rafalovka where her daughter found shelter at the home of a family friend, and I continued to the village of Sopachiv. The first rays of the sun began to emerge. After a distance of about 3km I got closer to a peasants farm in the village of Sopachiv. I entered the yard and found shelter in a pile of straw in a hidden corner next to the barn fence.
I heard the squeaking of the farmer's house door and the homeowner, who had just woken up from his sleep, was walking in my direction. The man approached me surprised and hesitantly asked me who I was and where I was from. I answered him and he invited me to his home and sat me next to the dining table. I ate breakfast with the members of his family. Here it will be said, that the members of this village knew our family. I personally did not know most of them. The identification son of Moshe (in their language Mevshikov synu) was enough.
The farmer told me that my brother Shmuel visited his home a few days ago in search of a shelter in the area. He made it clear to me that the place where he is, near a main road, is dangerous, since Ukrainian policemen occasionally roam the area I explained to the anonymous farmer where I was headed, and after a short rest he took me to a path leading in a straight direction to Andrei Darvianchik farm, which was located in the area of a group of khutors called Dubrowki. I thanked him and parted from him at the end of the meadow next to the barn. It was early morning on Saturday, the first week after the elimination of Rafalovka Ghetto.
The difficult events, and the instinct for existence and survival, did not allow us to feel the intensity of the tragedy that befell us. However, towards the last section of the escape route from the ghetto I felt relieved to be close to a place of safety. I walked on a narrow path that had a green meadow on both sides, and wide meadows covered with dew that bordered the west side of the Styr River, the direction I was walking. In many places the grass has already been reaped and dry haystacks were piled up. The morning was foggy and I did not encounter a living soul, another kilometer, another kilometer, I am not tired. Andrei's farm can already be seen a few dozen meters away, and here I am standing at the doorway to the hut of the farmer Andrei Darvianchik, with amputated legs.
I hesitantly opened the latch of the wooden door. The door creaked and I immediately heard a shout: who is this, a thief? On a bench at the entrance to the hut (what is called seyny in the Ukrainian language) a clumsy body rose as he rubbed his eyes. It was the homeowner who recognized me immediately, called me by my name and turned to me with a few words of greetings out of excitement and surprise. Andrei's wife woke up from the noise and she also came out of the house and welcomed me with blessings and warmth.
Andrei told me that my father visited him on his escape route and that some of the townspeople were on farms scattered in the area, among them my uncle Yehusua, the brother of my mother Henia. He knew to tell me that in a few days some of them will come to collect food and then we would decide on the next steps regarding me. In the meantime, I was taken into hiding in the barn's attic.
I lay tired in the haystack with its intoxicating smell and the smell of the cows and pigs lying beneath me, and fell into a deep sleep. In the afternoon, Andrei's daughter arrived at the hideout in the barn and brought me food as her face was smiling. She was the link between me and the family home. The family members of the farmer Andrei Darvianchik hid my presence in their home from their youngest son for fear that he would tell his friends about it, and also for fear of informing. Late in the evenings I went out, on the advice of the homeowner, to stay in a hidden excavation outside to breathe fresh air.
The first meeting with survivors from the ghetto
A few days have passed and one evening Jews who had survived the ghetto arrived to the place. Among them were my uncle Yehoshua zl, Leizer Wawchuk and Yakov Brick. They did not believe when the homeowner, Andrei, told them that I had escaped from the ghetto and I was now under his protection. The meeting with the townspeople was amazing, exciting and difficult. That night I joined them on a journey back to their hiding place in the khutor called Schukowi, in the northeastern part of the village of Sopachiv.
After a night walk of several kilometers through harvested fields, woods and khutors scattered along the dirt road, we arrived early in the morning at a farm house hidden within tall bushes and near a dense forest. The farmer, who welcomed us, was greatly surprised that another son of Moshe from Rafalovka managed to escape from the ghetto. I did not know the farmer. We were given bread, boiled potatoes and a drink there.
A short time later, the farmer led us through a path behind his house. After accompanying us a little in the direction of the hiding place, he left the place and returned to his home. The area looked wild, as if a human foot had never stepped on it. On both side of the path were swamps and any deviation from the path, which was paved by narrow logs, was in danger of sinking. Mists covered the whole area and the visibility was difficult. Each of us held the clothes of the person ahead of him, and after a slow walk of some time we approached the edge of the swamp.
We climbed a low hill with tall and dense pine trees. After a few dozen meters I felt the smell of smoke rising from a small campfire, and immediately found myself among a group of frightened nomads in tattered clothes and long hair. About twenty survivors from our town, among them one or two women, gathered there with the help of the local farmers. Here I met my father Moshe zl, my brother Shmuel and Leibel Ydoshlibi, the son of my mother's sister Fruma zl.
We were all in shock from the unexpected meeting. We hugged, cried like children, and did not believe if it was a reality or a dream. For a while we could not say a word. After we calmed down, I briefly told them what had happened to me from that black Sabbath in which the ghetto was liquidated, and there was a little comfort in the heart my father, my brother Shmuel, myself, uncle Yehusua, and Leibel my mother's nephew, survived from our family.
The place where they found refuge was isolated from any settlement. The whole area was like a kind of a square of a few dozen meters in diameter. Around it was a swamp with thick vegetation. The access to this site was particularly difficult. The farmer, who lived nearby, led the first Jewish refugees that came to his farm to this place for temporary refuge, until things calm down and a better refuge of a hiding place will be found. Every few days a group of 34 people left to collect food from the villages scattered on the isolated farms.
Among the few things that I brought from the ghetto there was one valuable item a manual haircut machine. The machine belonged to my cousin Leibel who showed me where he put it in their home in the ghetto, and so I knew how to put it into my backpack in the hiding place in the attic in the ghetto. The haircut machine was very helpful to us, and served us faithfully throughout our stay in this place, in the wild and good plot of land.
There were about twenty people were there, the High Holidays were approaching and with them the weather changed. It was accompanied by winds and rains. We held the holiday prayers under the sky. It was a heartbreaking sight of members of a small community, wrapped in tallitot that were their most precious things, in the Rosh Hashanah prayer, two weeks after they had lost everything dear to them and death hovered above them. And indeed, silent weeping was heard from the men who had never shed a tear in their lives.
We stayed in the place until after Yom Kippur. During our stay there we heard occasional bursts of gunfire near us. We knew that the Ukrainian police was pursuing Jewish survivors who had fled the Włodzimierzec ghetto, and the surrounding area, in the direction of these forests. Great danger also lurked for us. Even though the place was considered a place of safety, there was no shortage of informants among the villagers in the area who, in exchange for salt, which was a rare commodity then, or any other reward promised by the authorities, were willing to report on Jews who survived and hid in various places.
Autumn was knocking, rains, winds and cold heralded the coming of a harsh winter. On the advice of good farmers, and following rumors that came to us from other wandering Jews, we left the good piece of land that danger was also approaching it, and began to migrate further north, in search of other safe places, in roads that danger lurked beside them.
Hopes vanished, the future foretold evil and the mood was gloomy. We knew that the German armies are deep within Russia. There was no obstacle in their way and victories were with them. We did not know how long we could survive as a persecuted animal, even though we received help from farmers and friends, acquaintances and strangers in the area where we were.
It is well known that the Ukrainians in general are antiSemites and haters of Jews. We have a long historical account with them of pogroms that they carried out on the Jewish communities, and individuals, throughout Ukraine for generations. Most of their religious, political and spiritual leaders, from the Russian Orthodox Church preached and incited hatred of Jews. Although this phenomenon was suppressed during the Soviet rule, it arose immediately after its collapse and even more so.
Many of the Ukrainian people served in police units set up by the Germans. They cooperated in the repression and murder of Jewish people during the Holocaust, in the ghettos, in the concentration camps and in the hunt for those who managed to escape the massacre. In addition to them were the nationalist units, Benderovtsy, Bulbovets and others, who operated throughout western Ukraine.
The end of the chapter
A debt of appreciation and gratitude is hereby returned to the people of the village of Sopachiv. Local Ukrainian farmers, that some of them adhered to the beliefs of the Stundist sect, w risked their lives helping Jewish survivors in their dire distress. Most of the farmers of the village of Sopachiv, assisted the survivors in their distress by providing temporary shelter, food, clothing and advice. They were a ray of light to us in the great darkness that descended upon us.
Without all this help given to us by these farmers, simple people, most of them poor and illiterate, it is doubtful that there would have been a remnant of the Jewish community of Old Rafalovka and other towns in the area. Even those who refused to help, slammed the door and threw us out from the yard, were careful not to hurt us and did not betray us.
What were the reasons for the human steps that these gentiles have done for us? They risked their lives and sometimes paid dearly for it. The main motives for providing aid to surviving Jews on the part of the farmers from village of Sopachiv, and other villages in the area, were these:
* The influence of the belief of the Subotnikim (Baptist) that was widespread in the area. Among the other beliefs, they adhered to the Book of Books the Bible. I have heard their believers enthusiastically quote sentences and verses from the Bible relating to the future and the exalted role of the Jewish people that the Supreme Providence intended for them at the end of days. The Subotnikim preached against violence and killing, for brotherhood and friendship among human beings, for simplicity and modesty.
* The Subotnikim sect, that few Ukrainian peasant families belonged to, notes, in some of its principles, the observance of the commandments and the principles of Judaism, especially the observance of the Sabbath.
* Friendship and acquaintance of many years with Jews from the surrounding towns. Trade relations in various fields: cattle, grain, timber, basic consumer goods, services blacksmiths, shoemakers, grinding flour and grits, etc.
* The appearance of few partisans in the area as early as the fall of 1942, and the growth of partisan movement later.
* Repressed thought for a faint possibility of a turn in the front and the return of Soviet rule.
* Relative distance from Ukrainian centers of power and from focal points of Ukrainian nationalism at least in the first months.
Apart from the village of Sopachiv there were additional villages in the area that helped Jewish survivors in the first wave of escape from the ghettos and the slaughter, and they were: Huta Sopachivskyy (Polish farmer settlement), Byshlyak, Tikovitz, Mulchytsi, Ozertsi and others.
To all these farmers, the simple people, the known and the unknown, the Righteous Among the Nations, thank you!
The only other survivor, from the hiding place in the attic in the ghetto, is my friend Musia, now Michael Breston, who lives in Houston, United States. According to rumors, which came during our wanderings in the forests, Mrs. Goldbiter perished with her daughter in the winter of 19423 in one of the villages near the Styr River. May their memory be blessed.
When I returned to New Rafalovka, after the liberation of the area by the Red Army in February 1944, I hurried to the hiding place in the attic of our home in the ghetto. The hiding place was intact, the camouflaged door was open. I entered the emptiness hesitantly and found one item there my yellow badge that I had removed from my clothes. I picked it up for a souvenir but I lost it later in my wanderings.
The fate of family members and relatives
My father, Moshe Appleboim zl, went through the hardships of the Holocaust, immigrated to Israel in 1949, settled in the city of Acre. He remarried, worked at the Israel Post and was rewarded to see grandchildren, and great grandchildren, from his sons. He died on 1 Adar Alef 5746, at the age of 89.
My brother Shmuel, fought in the ranks of the partisans, enlisted in the Polish army, served as an officer in the Communications Corps and reached the gates of Berlin. He immigrated to Israel at the end of 1948, settled in Acre, engaged mostly in education and served as a mayor for a period. He was rewarded with three grandchildren from his daughter Rivka. He now lives with his wife, Aliza, in the city of Tel Aviv.
As for me, in the summer of 1943 I joined a Polish partisan unit. With liberation I was drafted into the Red Army, served in the port city of Arkhangelsk in the far north. I immigrated to Israel in an illegal boat on 1.1.48. I was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces and served for about three years. In December 1949, I married my girlfriend, Hadassah Yagoda, we have two daughters, EinYa and Haggith, and from them we were rewarded with six grandchildren. I worked in the Ministry of Transportation as a department manager.
My mother's nephew, Arye Leibel Yedushlibi, also joined the partisan movement in the summer of 1942. With the liberation of the area in February 1944, he was drafted into the Red Army. He fought in the northern sector of the front in Finland, where he was also wounded. At the end of the war he married Rachel Salzman Matikovich, who also went through the paths of hardship and suffering until liberation. They immigrated to Israel in 1946, settled in Kiryat Shmuel and live there to this day. They were rewarded with five grandchildren from their two daughters.
Itzik, Arye's brother, was drafted into the Red Army before the war, fought at the front and fell. His place of burial is unknown, may his memory be blessed.
Berko Salzman, Rachel's brother, a loyal friend and colleague. He went through with us part of the struggle for existence in the forests and in the villages. He fell in February 1944 in a battle with the Germans in the Tsuman Forest near Rovno for the liberation of the area, when he served in the partisan unit, may his memory be blessed.
My uncle, my mother's brother, Yehoshua Dekelbaum zl, was killed on 1.1.43 in a manhunt on the bunker we built in a plot of a swampy forest, northeast of the village of Sopachiv. In this attack, our townsman, Yehiel Melamed zl, was killed and some of the occupants of the bunker were captured alive, among them my friends Yehoshua Wawa, Yaakov Brick, Itzik Schirmann and Shifra Leizorov. When the snow melted we brought my uncle's body for burial on a raised forest clearing since the whole area is swampy. We covered the exposed burial place of Yehiel Melamed with soil, may their memory be blessed.
by Sender Appelboim
Translated by Esther Snyder
Ghetto Vladimertz was destroyed on Friday, 15 Elul, 5702 (28-8-42). Many of the Jews of Vladimertz escaped from the assembly point. My father, mother, sister and I were among those who fled. The Germans and Ukranians shot at us continuously. Many were killed and wounded during the escape. My mother was killed; my father, sister and I managed to escape. I was wounded in my leg. Later the Ukrainians handed over my sister to the Germans. They killed her.
Hundreds of Jews from Vladimertz succeeded in reaching the forest. There were some Jews who left the ghetto several days before its liquidation. Hundreds escaped but only tens remained alive. Many died from cold, hunger and disease. Some were caught and handed over to the Germans, some were killed by nationalistic Ukrainians and others died as heroes fighting with the Partisans and the Red Army.
The few who survived were saved not just due to good luck, but also because of their courage and resourcefulness. They continued to struggle even under the most difficult conditions; they didn't give up hope and didn't surrender. Some of them remained alive, mainly thanks to the good people who helped them in their time of terrible distress. I will discuss later those good people of Raflovka and its environs who lent a hand and helped the Jews during those difficult times throughout the years 1942 1944.
After the escape from the ghetto, I wandered alone in the forest for a month. I ate blueberries that grew in the forest and food that I stole from the farmers' vegetable gardens. I had a small prayer book (siddur) in my pocket and prayed every day saying kaddish and reading from the book of Psalms (Tehillim) in memory of my lost family.
I was 15 years old. I wasn't afraid of the animals in the forest I was afraid of people. It was not a baseless fear. Once, Ukrainian shepherds caught me and wanted to hand me over to the Germans. I saved myself by giving them my coat and shoes and threatening them that the Partisans would take revenge on them and their families.
One night I entered a tomato garden, ate my full and prepared to take some with me to eat on the road. I was very tired, my wounded leg was swollen and very painful. I wasn't able to continue walking and had no choice but to stay in the field where I fell asleep. Early in the morning, the Polish woman who owned the garden arrived; she was the wife of Dzarzinski from Widmer.
She knew my family and decided to hide me, take care of me and save my life. The Dzarzinski couple dug a hole in their barn and made a safe hiding place for me. That same day she traveled to Vladimertz and brought back medicines to heal my wound. After a month, my father learned that I was hiding with the Dzarzinski family and he came to see me. Our meeting was very emotional. Dzarzinski and his wife told us that they had planned to keep me hidden until the end of the war but some people saw my father enter their home at night and therefore we must leave. In the village, there were two murderous policemen, Kapitola and Kuzoritz. If they found out, they would kill not only me and my father but also the Dzarzinski couple and would burn down their house.
We decided to go to Hota Sofachovska because we heard the Partisans were there. On the way we reached Hotor, where Mifioda lived. He was a student. He received us warmly and hid us in his barn bringing us food every day. The Germans announced that anyone hiding a Jew would be shot. Despite the danger to him and his family, Mifioda decided to save as many Jews as he could. After a few weeks, my father and I decided to leave and not further endanger Mifioda although he asked us to remain with him. Later, when we were in Hota Sofachovska, we heard of the bitter end that came to this dear person, Mifioda. Two Ukrainians from Dolgobola, Marko Sazan and Kalim Chachko, informed the authorities who then searched Mifioda's home, found Jews and executed all of them. The murderers asked Mifioda why he gave refuge to the Jews. He answered: You can take my body but not my soul. He withstood the investigation with courage and was killed by the murderers.
In this area, there were other righteous Gentiles who helped Jews and saved them. Ivan Shamay from Vladimertz hid Jews, gave them food and led them into the forest. The Polish priest from Vladimertz endangered himself by saving Jews. In church, he told his congregants that it was their duty to save Jews, to hide them, give them food and offer help. Some of his people followed his direction.
Zavdaski and his wife from Androya gave refuge to any Jew who came to them. Rodnitzki from Prova and Olinchik gave shelter to my father and to the Brill family from Vladimertz.
In the forest near Hota Sofachovska we found tens of bodkes and zimlankes belonging to Jews. These were shacks on the ground and bunkers under the ground. We lived with another eight Jews in a bodka that we built in the forest.
At night, we would go to the villages in the area to steal potatoes from the skopches and clothes that were hanging from the laundry lines.
We tried not to ask for food from the villagers because we knew that Jews who did ask were turned over to the Germans and executed. The Germans tortured them before their murder in order to get information about hiding places of Partisans and Jews. We requested food only from those we could trust. In the Polish town of Hota Sofachovska, we received bread, groats and tools to build hiding places in the forest.
We, the youth and the children, apparently didn't realize how great was the danger. We sat in the bodke near the fire and sang songs in Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian.
Jewish partisans from Raflovka, Vladimertz and the surrounding villages endangered their lives by confiscating clothes taken from the Jews and also foodstuffs all of which they brought to us in the forest. They would often arrive wearing four or five pairs of trousers and many shirts that they took off and distributed among us.
I remember well the people who lived with us in the forest near Hota Sofachovska and other places. My leg was injured and I suffered great pain. At this time, Sania Morik, from Raflovka took my turn in guarding so I could rest. He was a diligent, refined and generous person. He helped many Jews in the forest. If he found food, he shared it with the others. In 1942, when many were desperate and hopeless, he was optimistic and believed that the Red Army would soon arrive and free us. Unfortunately, he didn't live to see that day.
Yehoshua Kuzyul from Raflovka an industrious, good-hearted person. Helped those who were in need, always tried to improve our living conditions, fixed every leaky roof.
Yehuda Feishter from Rozishatz during the nights we would go out to steal potatoes and other food. Yehuda walked at the head of the group. He was only 15 years old yet already showed leadership qualities and wisdom. He was familiar with every path in the forest. We were careful to steal late at night and always returned safely.
Sheindl Sosel from Dolgobola (today Yaffa Fishman) made an excellent potato soup for all those in the bunker and took care of those who were alone as a mother would have.
Yaakov Bass was a pharmacist in old Raflovka. While we were in the forest, he managed to get medicines. As there was no doctor in the forest, he acted as our doctor. He treated the sick and the wounded. He knew the farmers in the area and had friends among them. He knew from whom to be careful and whom one could trust. Yaakov Bass joined the Partisan unit from Kunzia, who were friendly toward the Jews. While in that unit, he was able to help the Jews who were not in the fighting unit. He was responsible for the medical service of the whole unit.
On 31.12.42, Hota Sofachovska was surrounded by large forces of Germans, Ukrainian police and soldiers from Velsov. This was the big ovlava (hunt). We heard gunshots from all directions and fled into the forest, because the enemy didn't dare go there.
Arye Yerushlivi from old Raflovka told me: after the Germans and Ukrainians left the area, Arye and some other Jews decided to return to the area and check if any Jews were left alive. They found the bodies of Yehoshua Dekelboim and Yehiel Melamed from old Raflovka lying near a talit (prayer shawl). They buried them together with the talit near Hazimlenka. Yehoshua Dekelboim and Yehiel Melamed were killed while trying to escape.
Yitzhak Shirman and another three Jews from old Raflovka were caught alive, brought to Vladimertz, tortured and killed.
After the big ovlava (hunt), we scattered in different directions. We moved from place to place, sleeping somewhere different every night. The Ukrainian people didn't want to help us. In the village of Molchitz, we met Fania Rozenfeld, today Fania Bass. Fania succeeded in establishing excellent relations with the shtundistim and their leaders. She taught them the Bible and won their admiration. My father and I reached the village with frozen feet and shaking from the cold. I was suffering from a serious infection that had developed in my wounded leg because of a lack of cleanliness and proper treatment. We searched for food and a place to hide. Good farmers gave us food but feared to hide us. The Germans announced in all the villages that anyone hiding a Jew would be killed together with his family and his house burnt down. Despite the great danger, there were sobotnikim and baptistim who helped the Jews and gave them refuge. There were cases where they paid for this with their lives. Fania Rozenfeld learned that two Jews, a father and son were wandering around the village. She searched and found us.
I saw before me a young, blonde, pretty woman dressed as a Ukrainian farmer. Amazingly, she spoke Yiddish and told us that she was the daughter of Yonah Rozenfeld from the old Raflovka. She saw I was shaking from the cold, removed her coat and gave it to me. I didn't want to take it from her but she said she could get another one from friendly farmers, something I couldn't do. Fania found us a hiding place with Philip the Shtundist. We washed ourselves in hot water, received clean clothes, ate our full and Philip started to treat my wounded foot. He put on the wound various home made ointments. I began to feel better.
We stayed in Molchitz for about two months. Fania often came to visit. She had a special status among the Shtundistim group, therefore, she was able to help many Jews. She often received clothes and food from the farmers; dressed as a farmer woman she carried the package on her back and brought it to the Jews in the forest.
The children whom Fania helped and saved were:
Shulamit Morik, Bella Rabin, Rivka and David Bass from Raflovka, Masha Valseftal-Dreitzin,Yehuda Feishter, Hanna-leh daughter of Zilbershtein the barber, a refugee from Poland.Yehuda Feishter today lives in Petah Tikva, a pensioner from the Israel Police; Shulamit Morik-Maksi - lives in Naot Afeka in Tel-Aviv; Bella Rabin lives in Canada, Rivka Bass in Rehovot, David Bass died in the War of Independence, Masha Valseftal-Dreitzin in Haifa, Hanna-leh Zilbershtein in Lod.
Fania helped many others whose names I don't remember.
When we felt that it was no longer safe to stay in Molchitz, we went to the forest near the village of Tikovitz.
Rachel and Yaakov Ber Zaltzman, a sister and brother, who lived in Tikovitz and were familiar with the surroundings, brought my father and me to a very thickly grown forest where the trees were so thick that the rain didn't come through. The place was surrounded by swamps that were difficult to traverse and no person ever reached it. We built a budka there. Rachel and Yaakov Ber endangered themselves by bringing us food and clothes and also good news. They told us of the Russian victories at the front. Rachel and Yaakov Ber gave help to other Jews who came to the village.
Later, others joined us in the budka in the swamps near Tikovitz: the brothers Yaakov and Eliezer Dik, and Asher Guz from from Vladimertz. Gedalia Bekelchuk and his wife Adela refugees from Poland, Sheindel
Sosel from Dolgobola and others whose names I don't remember.
Yaakov Ber Zaltzman joined the Partisans in their elite unit whose name was Death to the Fascists. He fought heroically in many battles. One of his tasks in the unit was to gather weapons that the Russian dropped into the forest and to distribute them among the fighting units. He was also able to help the Jews. He was wounded en route to the conquest of the city of Rovno and hospitalized in the hospital of the Russian Army in the city of Sereni. He died of his injuries. In the Military Cemetary, in Sereni, there is a gravestone that reads Yaakov Ber Zaltzman, Outstanding Partisan. Fought against the conqueringGermans. Everlasting glory to those who died in the battles for the Soviet homeland.
The Partisan units started organizing in the forests in 1942. It was very difficult for Jews to be accepted to these units. Jews who were able to join the partisans endangered their lives not only in actions against the Germans. Certain units were run by anti-Semites. Some Jews participated in actions with the Russian and Ukrainian partisans and didn't return. The Partisans claimed that the Jews were killed in battle. Later, the truth was revealed they were killed by the anti-Semites in their unit.
During the two months that we were in the forest near Tikovitz, we had enough food, not only potatoes but also bread, groats, salt, mushrooms and even eggs. Here is one story:
Yaakov Dik from Vladimertz reminded my father, Shlomo Apelboim, that his sister, Hannah Appleboim, had asked a farmer to safeguard her expensive fur coat. Eliezer Dik and Asher Guz decided to approach the farmer and ask him to return the coat or give them salt in compensation. Holding a letter written by my father, they went to the farmer. The farmer, who was a friend of my father, was rich and had great amounts of salt. He didn't say much and gave to Eliezer and Asher as many bags of salt that they could carry. He also added food for the road.
Gedalia Bakelchuk, a lawyer, was an arbitrator and decisor in any controversy or argument. His decision was immediately accepted. Bakelchuk decided that half of the salt belonged to Eliezer Dik and Asher Guz who had endangered their lives to bring it back. The second half belonged to my father. Salt was a rare and expensive commodity also used in bartering. From time to time, we went to the neighboring villages with some salt that was traded for foodstuffs. We distributed the food to all the people who lived with us in the budka. Sheindel Sosel (in Israel, Yaffa Fishman) prepared delicious dishes for us. We sat together, a small group of Jews in one isolated shack in the midst of the forest and for a while, no one was hungry.
In 1943, after the victory in Stalingrad, the Soviet army quickly advanced toward our area. Russian paratroopers reached the forests, imposed order on the Partisan units and took charge of the anti-Semites. The Ukrainians were now afraid to hand over Jews to the Germans and it was easier for Jews to join the fighting units of the Partisans.
From our hiding place near Tikovitz, we heard that a unit of the Partisans in Benigovitz near Pinsk, named after Vanda Vasilivska, was accepting Jewish members. Our small group of Jews went out in search of them. We traveled tens of kilometers and after days and nights of walking we reached the Partisan camp. We were given food from their kitchen, a place to sleep in the granary and received a rifle ! Words cannot describe my joy and elation on the day I first held a rifle and learned how to use it. For so long I had wanted to take revenge on the Germans. Finally, I have a weapon and my dream of revenge will be realized. But, to my dismay, they didn't give me combat duty. Tens of Jews were in the unit and our task was to guard the camp. Later, this unit was disbanded.
On Rosh Hashana, 1943, in the city of Benigovitz, hundreds of Jews gathered, both combat and non-combat.
Yitzhak Figelshtein, called Yitzhak der duber, knew how to lead the prayers. He prayed with great emotion and often burst into bitter tears.
Many of us cried with him. He mentioned our loved ones who died for Kiddush HaShem martyrdom, and also those who fought against the Germans and were killed. He said: We swear an oath today, on this holy day, to leave this cursed land and never to return. We will do everything in order to reach Eretz Yisrael.
In the beginning of 1944 the Red Army arrived in Raflovka. We were still in the area that was under German control. We got organized and started out. Our goal was to reach the place where the Red Army was in control. At that time, there was a typhus epidemic and some of our people were ill. We decided to take the sick ones with us. The healthy ones supported the ill and helped them. Mordechai Slivkin and I put Haim Slivkin on a snow sled to which we tied a rope and dragged him the whole way. We traveled tens of kilometers. This area was controlled by the Germans and the Bolbubatzim. Therefore, we had to walk through forests and travel only during the night. We passed close to the front and heard gunfire and the explosion of shells.
We entered Stanzia Raflovka together with the Partisans and their families and met up with the Red Army. We stayed in Raflovka for a few weeks and moved on to Vladimertz. We, the boys aged 16 18, joined the Istrabitlani Battalion. Our task in the unit was to catch those who cooperated with the Germans. They were judged and exiled to Siberia. The situation had reversed. Earlier, the collaborators lived in the city and searched for us in the forests. Now, we looked for them. In a way, we were able to take revenge on them.
It was very difficult to remain in Vladimertz. Every house, every street and road reminded us of relatives and friends who had been killed by the murderers.
We remembered our oath taken on Rosh Hashana in the forest of Benigovitz and at the first opportunity we left the cursed land that was saturated with the blood of our brothers and sisters.
Calvana Gellershtein, Rivka Bass and I came to Eretz Yisrael in October 1945. We were among the first Jews from Raflovka, Vladimertz and their environs to reach Eretz Yisrael after the Second World War.
by Shmuel Efrat (Appelboim)
Translated by Esther Snyder
In the beginning of April, 1942, the sword of Damocles hung over the heads of the Jews of Stara Raflovka, a small community in the region of Vahlen, which numbered about eighty families. Almost nine months had passed since the Nazis had conquered the western Ukraine. Fortunately, we still continued living with our family in our homes, with the meager possessions left to us. We barely subsisted but so far had no loss of life as had occurred in other places.
Theoretically, the situation was tolerable. However, the question that hung in the air what would be our fate if the threat of establishing a ghetto was realized. There were rumors that in New Raflovka, which was twelve kilometers from us, a ghetto would be made for all the Jews in the area. We would be forced to leave the town where we lived and move to another area, without any economic assets. We would have to manage on a meager allotment that we might receive from the authorities for the hard work we'd be forced to do. It was clear that if were taken from our natural surroundings where there were farmers who were ready to supply us with a minimal amount of food on which to subsist, we could expect death from starvation and no one would be able to save us.
As to the rumor that circulated that the Germans would in reality kill all the Jews, we simply refused to believe it. We believed that the Jews of our town wouldn't be hurt at least until the end of the war since they worked at cutting down trees in the surrounding forest that were used by the German army. And afterward it was unimaginable that the Germans would continue to kill Jews
That was the trend of thought and those were the illusions we held onto in those days. However, the intentions of the Germans to move us to the ghetto clearly caused us to feel that bitter reality would shatter our dreams and hopes.
What can be done to avoid this bitter fate? Many asked: how can we prevent the transfer to the ghetto?
I was a young man about twenty years old, who by chance was working in the Forest Administration that was established in Stara Raflovka by the Germans authorities. The Administration was headed by a Polish citizen who came, with his family, from afar to our area. I worked in his office and dealt mainly with translating documents into two official languages that were then in use German and Ukrainian.
Despite the waves of violence that erupted against Jews in many places, my relations with the Polish manager were quite good. One day I dared to ask him what would happen to the Jews of the town, most of whom worked in the forests under his supervision, if they were moved to a ghetto in another place. His answer was that he didn't know. However, several days later he called me to his office and told me that he had checked into the matter and the rumor was true. Later, he told me about a plan he had prepared how to prevent the transfer of the Jews of Stara Raflovka. Since he knew the commander of the German Army Engineering Company that was stationed in Tcherturisk, he would ask him to speak with the GabitsKommisar in Sereni to permit the Jews to remain in Raflovka so they could continue to work. The reason he gave was so not to give up the Jewish workers who supply wood to rebuild the bridge on the Stir River near Tcherturisk, As is known, the bridge was destroyed at the beginning of the war. Now, it was essential for the railroad tracks leading to the city of Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, and even further to the banks of the Volga, where nearby the German battle front was located, in the center of Russia.
At the end of our conversation, he suggested that I ask the members of the Jewish community to provide him with a sum of money that he would use to strengthen his relations with the German officers who could help bring his plan to fruition.
I told the whole matter to Mr. Y.V., who was then the head of the Jewish community in Stara Raflovka. He was of the opinion that the sum was not very large and the matter was worth the risk. Therefore, in view of the rumors that setting up the ghetto was about to happen, Y.V. consulted with two members of the committee and quickly gave me the requested sum of money and wished me luck.
I asked that he keep the whole matter extremely secret.
When spring arrived, after the melting of the ice and snow, the Stir River, which flows nearby, rises over its banks and floods the wide pastures that spread out for many kilometers. My friend, the Polish manager, and I took a boat to a neighboring village and from there by land to the train station in Tcherturisk. When we reached land, the boat was sent back home together with the two farmers who brought us there so they would not be able to follow us. We continued on our way by wagon and, as the sun set, we neared the German Engineer Corps in Tcherturisk.
The sentry who was standing at the gate apparently knew we were coming and allowed us into the military headquarters without any unnecessary waiting. He also didn't pay much attention to the yellow badge attached to my lapel.
This was my first face-to-face meeting with a German soldier. Stara Raflovka, where I was born and where my family lived, was distant from the main road where Hitler's armies marched when they invaded Soviet Russia. Our region belonged to Poland and according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, it was transferred to Russian control. Now, the government was transferred by the German invaders to the representatives of the Ukrainian people. A local committee was established with an accompanying police force that was drafted from the people of the town and surrounding villages. Thus there weren't any German soldiers near us. Therefore, when I stood before a German soldier for the first time in my life, I suffered extreme fear that was not easily overcome.
When I entered the headquarters, I was introduced to a German officer with the rank of Captain (Hauftman), an older man aged about fifty who spoke fairly politely to me. He suggested that I spend the night in the Jewish neighborhood, past the railroad tracks and to return at midnight, at exactly twelve o'clock.
I was familiar with the town of Tcherturisk before the war, that is in the period before September 1939. About forty Jewish families lived there including Jewish youths of my age. My friends and I from Raflovka had befriended them and we would visit each other. Now, I came to them after not seeing them for a long time.
It should be noted that at that time, although the Jews were not forced into a ghetto, they were prohibited from leaving and going to another area. Any movement outside their place of residence not for purposes of work, was very dangerous and Jews apprehended were shot to death.
I came to the home of M.R. who had been married for two years to the older sister of my childhood friend in Stara Raflovka. There was almost complete darkness in the house and the surrounding area. Rays of dim light came from oil lamps that were kept covered. M.R. was happy to see me, someone from the outside world.
Neighbors and acquaintances came over to see me. In our long conversations, they bemoaned the bitter fate of the Jews, while many mentioned that their economic situation was reasonable. That was due to German military unit that treated them satisfactorily. What especially worried them was the uncertainty of our continued existence in the future. This gave them no peace and created a depressive atmosphere.
Who knows what else awaits us? The question and the uncertainty were repeated by all those who spoke with me.
To M.R. and his wife, Esther, I told about their family in Stara Raflovka, that they all were alive and I saw them often.
The hours passed during which I described to all who came the troubles and hardships of the Jews in Stara Raflovka since the German invasion. In the beginning, there were cases of destruction of property, robberies and looting accompanied by beatings and there were even rape, as gangs of Ukrainians attacked the Jews every night. We ran to find hiding places after nightfall and after pogroms there was a new German arrangement with harsh decrees forced labor, yellow badges, curfew, life lived in constant fear and very difficult economic distress. As midnight approached, I bade farewell to my friends with tears flowing from my eyes.
Will I ever see these people again? I thought to myself. And in reality, I never did. Almost all were killed in the Holocaust. Two weeks before the disaster in our town, they were killed in cold blood and their bodies thrown into pits. Only very few of the Jews of Tcherturisk survived, among them a lad about seventeen years old whose name was Isaac Firt*. Later, he was known as one of the best fighters of the Partisans in the Vahlen region. I was privileged to serve with him in the Partisan unit that was active in the area of Raflovka, which was under the command of the Division of Aleksei Fyodorov (the rubinai).
However, at that time, when I left my friends in Tcherturisk, we weren't aware of the Holocaust awaiting us. We did everything, we thought then, to continue to exist and live with our families as a complete Jewish kibbutz. All efforts were directed to this purpose.
I returned to the German headquarters at twelve o'clock at night, as I was ordered. Through the partially opened door to the dark waiting room, I could see into the next room that was well-lit. The German Captain sat at the head of the table where I had met him earlier that night and next to him sat my friend, the Polish manager.
Around them sat a group of about ten junior officers. They were having a very jolly party bordering on boisterousness. From time to time one of the officers raised his cup of wine while the others shouted loudly and screamed in song. Three Jewish girls served the officers giving them food and drink. As they passed through the waiting room where I stood, on their way to the kitchen, they described to me their work in the kitchen and in cleaning of the German headquarters.
This work took many hours during the day and night. In remuneration, they received generous amounts of food and therefore could help their families in their daily subsistence. They also expressed their deep concern about what could happen to the Jews similar to what I heard at the home where I spent the earlier hours. The party came to an end, the German captain was the first to rise and leave the room, followed by my friend the Polish manager both of them drunk. When the captain noticed me, he said to me in German: You are the translator you will come with us.
I had no idea where we were going or what was their plan. Things soon became clear. Some officers knocked on the doors of a few farmers who lived at the edge of the town and demanded that they harness their horses and go to the narrow train that led into the depths of the forest.
However, the night trip started off badly. Right at the start the horses started to gallop wildly and caused the cars to overturn. Luckily, we fell on mossy, damp ground and were not hurt.
Meanwhile, the Germans ordered that other horses, those used to this kind of hauling, be harnessed to the train cars, while they threatened and cursed the two drivers that almost caused a serious accident. Thus our trip into the forest was renewed. From the conversation between the officers, I understood that our destination was a hidden place in the forest where there were to be found rare songbirds like the singing thrush, that produce a lovely melody, and perhaps to seize them.
On the way, we stopped near a large bonfire that was lighted especially to mark the place where the cars would stop. I was told to stay with the farmer who guarded the fire and to wait for the return of the officers, who walked an hour away.
At sunrise, the strange group returned to the place where I waited, in very high spirits. Here, we returned to the cars and they brought us back to the edge of the forest near Tcherturisk. There my friend the Polish manager jovially took leave from his German hosts and they answered him politely. On our way home to Stara Raflovka the manager told me that the party was a success and soon there would be another meeting. Most importantly he received a clear promise form the German captain to take care of our matter and he hopes for the best.
These are the events that happened later. Around the fifteenth of May 1942, all the Jews of Stara Raflovka were ordered to abandon their homes and the town where they and their fathers had lived for 350 years and move to the ghetto that was set up in new Raflovka. They were allowed to take only a few possessions and put them on a small number of wagons provided by the Ukrainian Committee. Then the Jews walked behind the carts on dusty roads to the ghetto, a distance of twelve kilometers.
Now began a new chapter of troubles and hardship that led us in a relatively short time, about three and one half months, to annihilation and destruction
It should be noted that, to my great surprise, about two weeks after we arrived at the ghetto, I was notified by Mr. B., who was the head of the Judenrat of new Raflovka, that the Gabitskommisar in Sereni allowed the continued employment of about fifty Jewish workers from Stara Raflovka in the forests where they had worked before they moved to the ghetto. However, he absolutely prohibited to employ any Jewish worker in the regional office of the administration of forests and specifically not the Jude Samuel Apelboim. My friend, the Polish manager took a great risk when he decided to ignore this explicit directive he had received from the German government and he continued to employ me in his office together with my good friend Pesach Bindes, zl, who was killed later while serving with the Partisans.
The only change in our situation there was that we were moved into a side room that overlooked the yard and we were asked to be careful not to be seen by outsiders who came to the office.
It should be added that according to the request of the Ukrainian Committee in Stara Raflovka, a special approval for remaining in the town was given to the pharmacist, Yaakov Bass, so that he could continue to maintain a pharmacy and clinic in his home that would serve the area's population.
On Shabbat, 16 Elul, 5702 (29.8.1942) the evil force struck - most of the Jews of Stara Raflovka were killed, together with other Jews in the area, totaling about two thousand five hundred people. Nevertheless, most of the Jews who worked in the forest, which was twenty kilometers from the ghetto, managed to escape the murderers. About forty of them remained alive and would see the downfall of the Nazi enemy and a few years later the revival of the Jewish people in their land.
* Isaac Firt also fought on the Berlin front, as an officer with the rank of lieutenant. He continued to serve in the Red Army after the war and left the army with the rank of Polkovnik. Today he lives with his family in Moscow.
Shmuel Efrat (Apelboim)
Translated by Esther Snyder
At the outbreak of war between Germany and the USSR at the end of June 1941, I was staying with my aunt in Dombrovitz, where I completed my studies at the Pedagogic Institute and received my teaching certificate. Then, I decided to move to Russia and leave the region where I was born in order to flee from the German government.
Before I traveled eastward, I hastened to my parents' home in Stara Raflovka to receive a parting blessing from my family and friends with whom I had grown up.
Because the Sereni-Kobel railroad tracks had been totally destroyed by the numerous bombings of the Luftwaffe, I was forced to make my way home by walking a distance of tens of kilometers.
During the nights, I had to pass through villages whose residents were known as robbers who attacked passersby. I walked past them on tiptoe and only barking dogs accompanied me. In the daylight, I pretended to be a Ukrainian teacher returning to his family. When I saw unfriendly people, I didn't speak with them so they wouldn't recognize my foreign accent.
I reached the town of Vladimertz that was located twenty-four kilometers from the place I was born, which was a pleasant looking place with the largest Jewish community in the area. When I met the local people, I heard that life was very chaotic. The Soviet governmental institutions in the whole area were vacated and the area was left open to German invaders. My friends, who knew me for many years, were happy to see me and warned me not to stay there but to join them the next day when they planned to leave the town.
That night my feet became swollen and covered in blisters. I suffered terrible pains and wasn't able to join them. I searched for a place to stay and found relatives who welcomed me warmly. In the morning, I continued to walk until noontime when I reached home, in Stara Raflovka.
The frightened people I met in the town told me that all the roads leading east were blocked off by the enemy. Groups of young Jews who tried to escape were caught on the road or were forced to return along dusty back roads. Truthfully, when I saw my family up close, I said to myself that I couldn't leave them and my fate would be the same as theirs.
Meanwhile, things worsened from day to day. Gangs of bandits spread out over our town and all the Jewish settlements in the area. Even before the war, looting was frequent in these places but now the robberies knew no bounds.
Hundreds of armed bullies from the area of Mulchich, some with old weapons and some with modern weapons stolen from the withdrawing Red Army, organized into gangs and joined by local delinquents, violently attacked the Jewish population.
In those days we remembered the poem of Haim Nahman Bialik, Heavens, ask mercy for me, - that was everyone's prayer. All around there were robberies and beatings; several times a day gangs went from house to house throwing possessions into carts waiting outside, looting everything, breaking and destroying furniture, windows and doors, beating men and women, old and young. The rioters were always drunk and there were even cases of rape done in broad daylight.
At nights, there was fear of murder. We would abandon our homes and run to hide with the farmers. Although some of them helped us, even they didn't dare to physically resist the hooligans. This happened day after day and the homes of the Jews were emptied of all their possessions. They took from us our clothes, home furnishings, food and merchandise, that were hidden deep in the ground. Searching for gold and silver the robbers destroyed the walls of the houses.
When the thugs left, we returned to our ruined homes to gather whatever remnants of clothes and food that were left over.
Three weeks passed in this way. We were left with nothing. The work of many years and even generations was completely lost. Luckily, no one was killed.
After the front was moved hundreds of kilometers from us, the agents of the German government and the Ukrainians who cooperated with them, came to set up their institutions in our area. They found us defenseless and completely humiliated.
Violence against the Jews was prohibited and it was publicized that anyone attacking the Jews would be severely punished.
Thus, a new order was established, that was arranged by the Germans with the help of the local police, and quickly we began to become familiar with it. One day a decree was handed down declaring that every Jew must wear yellow badges on the lapel and the back of his clothes. We felt deeply humiliated. From now on, it was possible to distinguish a Jew from a non-Jew even at a distance.
After a short time, troubles started again. We were forced to pay a ransom (contribution) in gold coins based on the number of Jews. After that ransom was paid, the amount was doubled and even tripled and was mercilessly collected from us.
The condition worsened when a curfew was placed on us that lasted from six o'clock in the evening until six in the morning. At sunrise, we had to start doing hard labor.
Men and women, aged 14 to 50 all had to work and no one was exempt. In compensation, we received a small portion of bread and a tiny, practically valueless, payment.
During this time, amazingly we felt secure, thinking that all the troubles were behind us. Many returned to believing in G-d. We continued to live while overcoming the difficulties and we believed that with every new day maybe a miracle will occur and we'll see the defeat of Evil enemy.
In the spring of 1942, another difficult decree befell us. About the fifteenth of May, the Jews from all the surrounding areas were ordered to move to the ghetto that had been established in New Raflovka, a distance of twelve kilometers from us. There, only three streets were assigned to us where two thousand five persons had to find a living space. In a house where one family used to live, there now lived four or five families. Every room was very crowded. We were prohibited from leaving the ghetto and anyone who was caught doing so was sentenced to death.
Every morning, groups of Jews went go out to work arranged in military file, and were accompanied by armed Ukrainian police and aided by Jewish police who were unarmed. These wretched Jews, wearing old, faded clothes, marched toward the forests in the area of Sofachov, to the sawmills there and to the bridge near Tchertorisk, which they were ordered to rebuild after it had been destroyed at the start of the war.
The supplies in the ghetto were decreasing. In the beginning, there was still some contact with the outside population through friends and acquaintances who succeeded in passing over small amounts of food. There was barter trading and the black market flourished. Now, the economic blockade was tightened and there were families who suffered from starvation and needed to be helped in their distress.
However, even in these difficult conditions we believed we would survive. We didn't know, and maybe we didn't want to know that the Germans had a plan to annihilate us and wipe us off the face of the earth. There was no contact between us and the other settlements in the region and no information reached us about what was happening in other places.
At any rate, no one wanted to believe that annihilation was near. We thought, then, that the Germans weren't interested in killing us since our hard work was helping them and their war effort. Now, we weren't blood sucking parasites as the Jews had been called in the Nazi poisonous propaganda. We were just working prisoners who received a salary of seven rubles (karbobenzim Ukrainian coins) per day that were worth exactly one loaf of bread. We are not rebelling nor rioting. We are quiet people. Why should they want to kill us? we asked ourselves.
We comforted ourselves that although we would continue to live as slaves, if we don't fall into depression and keep calm, we can survive until the end of the war. Afterwards, some solution will certainly be found for us. Even Hitler himself once announced that Madagascar was a place where the Jews of Europe could live. We will live in Madagascar or some other forsaken place in the world as long as we survive the war. This was whispered among the Jews of the ghetto at night before going to bed.
After several weeks, the anxiety increased in the ghetto. The first signs appeared that our bitter destiny had already been decided. Three Jews were shot and killed when they left the line marching to work in order to get food from a passing farmer. A refugee who managed to reach us from the Stefan ghetto told us that all the Jews there were killed and cruel murders occurred in other settlements across Vahlen. Then, the end came to the small Jewish community in Tchertorisk, which numbered two hundred people and was quite close to us, only six kilometers away. In that same action, sixty Jews from Raflovka who were working at the nearby bridge, were cruelly killed.
In the last week of the existence of the ghetto, I was at my place of employment in Stara Raflovka. There, we heard that large pits were dug near the village of Socobela, near the forest leading to the ghetto. At first, rumors said that the Germans wanted to store potatoes there for the winter.
Shortly afterward, we learned that the pits were meant to be used for killing Jews. At the same time, we were told that the German SS together with the Ukrainian police surrounded the ghetto and imprisoned all the Jews within. The workers in the forest were ordered to return immediately to the ghetto and not to remain in the forest until the end of the week as had been done previously.
The pharmacist, Yaakov Bass, who was in our town at that time, was able to bribe the postal clerk who allowed him to get in touch with the Judenrat in the ghetto. At the other end of the line was Yaakov Weisman, who broke down in tears, but Bass managed to give the following message: Jews, read Tehillim (Psalms), save yourselves.
Then, I decided to flee to the forest together with a small group of five Jews who worked as blacksmiths.
While on our way, we were arrested by Ukrainian police and were being brought to the police station for imprisonment. Instinctively, I ran as fast as I could toward the side paths and vegetable gardens at the edge of the town. Two policemen ran after me, one of them shooting but missing me. After running as far as I could, I jumped into a field of corn and despite the search efforts of my pursuers, they didn't find me and left the place.
A few days later, after I managed to find shelter with a Ukrainian family where I hid in the hayloft. The housewife told me what she saw with her own eyes:
I was in New Raflovka that day and I saw how a long line of Jews from the ghetto marched down the street headed by the old Rabbi with a white beard. They were surrounded by guards with weapons pointed at them on their way to death. And, she added, They shot and killed all of them near huge ditches that had been dug in the hills of Socobela.
I remained alone after hearing the horrific news, tears choking my throat. I felt a terrible feeling of doom. All hope of being saved was gone and what point was there in staying alive.
I felt a bitter anguish that stayed with me and didn't leave for a long time.
Suddenly, and I don't know how it happened, a mysterious need awoke in me, sort of a strong urge to continue my search for another hiding place far from this murderous town, and not to give in to the anguish.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Rafalovka, Ukraine Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 12 MAy 2021 by LA