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[Page 127]

In the marshes and forests of Polesie

by Alexander Sarid (Schwartzblat)

Translated by Sara Mages

The end of the Jews of the town of Rafalovka

Morning of 22 June, 1941. German planes flew low over Old Rafalovka and activated their sirens on their flight to bomb the cities of the Soviet Union. The morale of the population has dropped miraculously. The depression in our house began when we learned that our aunt and her two small children, who lived in Manevychi, were killed in a direct hit and their bodies crashed. The Soviet government turned to the entire population, especially to the Jews, and ordered them to leave their homes and retreat east. Few responded to this call, especially young party activists who feared of staying out of ideological motives, as well as some families from nearby towns. Among those leaving was also my father.

The factor that delayed the escape was the Polish refugees. The Red Army withdrew and small groups of soldiers, who had been cut off from their units, dragged after it. There was chaos in town. Everywhere there were unfamiliar people, soldiers, deserters and refugees who did not keep up with the pace of the German progress. Spies, and Hitler supporters, emerged from every corner. A nationalist surge of Ukrainians who hoped to establish an independent Ukraine erupted. There were two groups: “Bolbobtsim” and “Banderivtsi” (in the name of a Ukrainian exile named Bandera). They were joined by various dubious elements, all of whom were sworn haters of Jews, Poles and the Soviet regime. They disarmed retreating soldiers and cooperated with the Germans since the beginning of the war. They took advantage of the state of lawlessness and engaged in robbery, violence, rape and murder. We were humiliated and defenseless. Our lives and possessions were worthless.

We were afraid, my mother and her four children to remain at home. We wandered among the Jewish neighbors, at night we lay in the vegetable garden or at the home of a Christian neighbor to whom we gave our cow. We hid some of our important belongings in a basement under the wooden floor of a building that we owned. The home of the Christian family was too small to accommodate us all. My mother and my sister Shulamit slept in the house, while me, my sister Esther and my brother Avraham - in the attic. The homeowner's two daughters also slept there. The house and barn were connected by a shed from which we entered. One night, I noticed a suspicious movement on the roof. These were rioters. I heard one of them asking the girls: “where is the young Jew?” A few minutes have passed and one of them reached me. I whispered to my sister to jump off the roof into the hallway and call our mother. Esther jumped down. My mother wanted to open the house door but she encountered resistance from the other side. Then, in a desperate push, she gathered all her strength, pulled the door off its hinges, jumped into the hallway, pushed one of the rioters, grabbed Esther and let her into the house as the Christian woman came to her aid. Luckily for us, the three rioters were locals and they did not want to carry out their plot in front of our Christian host. The next day they said that they had never encountered such a brave Jew. My sister only suffered a sprained leg.

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The convert, Yakov Malinowski from Bilska Volya, played a large part in the pogroms. He joined the Ukrainian gendarmerie and served the Germans, but a few months later he was forced to dig a grave for himself and was shot to death.

The pogroms plagued the Jewish settlements day and night. The rioters abused and looted indiscriminately and transferred the loot to their homes. Rafalovka was under the fear of pogroms for more than a month. These were days of horrible experiences, that don't even appear in a nightmare.

The people of Bandera did not get what they wanted and independent Ukraine was not established. The Germans began to treat the Ukrainians with malice. They imposed high taxes and took young people to forced labor. There were Ukrainians who responded by turning their backs on the Germans, and the people of Bandera began to organize in the underground. But, many continued to serve in the gendarmerie and in the following years they took a large part in the murder of the Jews.

The official decrees issued against the Jews came one after another, and our fate was sealed. In the fall of 1941, a “Judenrat” was elected and an order came to wear the yellow badge from the age of nine onwards. “Contributions” were imposed on us in the form of a poll tax in gold, furs, woolen gloves and footwear. Young men were taken to forced labor and did not return to their homes. In order to comply with the decrees, the Jews gathered in the synagogue and decided on the division of the burden according to ability. We still survived by exchanging items for food. Studies were discontinued. We lived in torment and torture and without tomorrow.

This is how we passed the winter of 1941-42. My heart cries when I remember my mother who gathered all her strength to withstand the harsh Ukrainian winter and take care of her four children. She obtained food and firewood and faced a hostile environment. At that time my aunt Rivka and her family came to live with us. The sense of security increased slightly in a larger group. One day, sixty people from our town went to work on the Polonov Bridge. They did not return. They were murdered together with the people of Czartorysk. It was the first blow to hit most families. Against this background there was a flourishing of messianic hallucinations and all sorts of false prophets arose. On the other hand there were no people of great importance who could guide the population.

The transfer order to New Rafalovka was published on May 1942. Every family was allowed to take a cart with belongings. All the rest was left in the homes or scattered among the Christian population. We took necessary clothes, bedding and groceries that we purchased by exchanging our belongings. All of us crowded into one neighborhood in town. Our family moved into a room at the house of a relative named Pesach Dick. As far as I remember, the house belonged to Yakov the painter who escaped at the beginning of the war to the Soviet Union. The house stood next to Tanenbaum's house where the “Judenrat” was located. A Jewish police was set up and carried out the Germans' orders. One of them was sending Jews to “essential jobs” for several hundred grams of bread. The “Judenrat” determined the places of work for the people according to their origin.

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The Jewish police took care of returning the workers. They went out to factories in nearby towns and villages, and it was possible to bring a little food. Therefore, family representatives tried to go to work. I worked in Bilska Volya in a sawmill. We left on Sunday and returned on Friday. There were weeks that my mother went to Bilska Volya without permission to buy a little food from the farmers. My brother Avraham and my sisters, Ester and little Shulamit, remained at home.

The situation in the ghetto was getting worse day by day. The food basket became extremely meager and this gave its signals in our health. We were hungry and diseases appeared. We were broken in body and soul. We felt that the ring is tightening around us.

The front was far. Bad news arrived from various ghettos. We lived without law, without leadership and hope.

Two weeks before the mass murder of the town's Jews I went with my mother to work in the village of Bilska Volya. Since we were walking barefoot I was stabbed in my right foot which swelled and raised pus. I returned on Friday but on Sunday I had to stay at home. We brought food for a few days. Meanwhile the tension increased in the town. There were many guesses and dilemmas on the street. There was a nerve-racking atmosphere. We heard that all the Jews in the nearby towns were murdered, and there was no doubt that the disaster was approaching us as well. And yet, they did not believe it would also happen to us. We did not need further proof from the information we received that pits are being dug in Sukhovolya, but the instinct of life misled us.

In the following days the Germans stationed gendarmes around the ghetto. There were attempts at escape. Most of the escapees found their death on the roads and only a few managed to escape. The Germans started to return Jews from places of work. Some of them escaped and some returned voluntarily. My relative, Dov Friedman, a boy of about fourteen, returned to the ghetto with a “tearing” on his garment as a sign of mourning. When I asked him to explain, he said that the Ukrainians told him that they had caught his parents and therefore he saw no point in being the only one left alive.

The other small children of the family found their death together with him. Their parents, with the two older sons, survived.

My mother knew what awaited us and wanted to escape with her children. I remember that we found a pile of firewood in one of the sheds. We arranged a place inside the pile and sat there all day. In the evening we had to go home. Most of the town Jews did not try to do anything and waited for a miracle from heaven. There were suicides in the ghetto. The human being looked like a persecuted animal that has been captured and tried to escape in every possible direction. In this way we have dragged the last days.

I was the eldest in the family. Not a great hero - a weak and sickly boy about sixteen years old who looked like a twelve years old. It is possible that this was the reason why I was able to escape and stay alive. From that night I was no longer a “mother's boy,” I became an independent person. From that day I did not get sick until the end of the war. For over three years I did not sleep in a real bed, only in the frozen field, in the snow and in the dugouts. The fresh air must have healed and strengthened me. All the legends about wolves, demons and bandits were shattered. On the contrary, I was looking for the thicket of the forest, the groves and the marshes of Poland and Polesie. On my way, I met wolves and other animals. The only fear was from a person. More than once I have come face to face with death. I also met good people in the full sense of the word.

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To the best of my knowledge, I was among the few in the ghetto who survived. The only one who saw, heard, and went through all the stages of torture. I cannot put into words what happened to our loved ones on Sabbath eve and on Sabbath morning, 17 Elul, 5702 (1942). I don't think that anyone slept on that night of horror, and if they have done so, it was from apathy, a broken soul and reconciliation with fate, like those who were sentenced to death and saw themselves dead before they were executed. They recited Psalms throughout Sabbath eve, read from the Torah, tore a “tearing” in their coats, cried and shouted “Shema Yisrael.” The echo of that night accompanies me all my life. In the morning all the Jews were ordered to gather in one of the town squares.

On the Sabbath, at dawn, my mother remembered my father. She worried and asked what would happen when he returned after the war and did not find a remnant of us...

The house where we lived in the ghetto was next to the Tanenbaum's house where the “Judenrat” was located. A ten meters long garden of deciduous fruit trees separated the two houses. At the entrance to the “Judenrat” was a step made of two wooden boards one and a half meters long. I brought up the idea that I would hide under the step. I went to visit my relatives to hear their advice. When we entered the house of my uncle, Yona Rosenfeld, we were amazed. My uncle was sitting at the head of the table and his three sons sat around him. His son, Isaac, was a yeshiva student and my uncle was also well versed in the Talmud. They ate cholent and sang hymns. They explained that the days of the Messiah have arrived, and there is no reason to be afraid. My mother recoiled from their behavior and we went to other relatives. At the home of Nehemiah Schwartzblat the atmosphere was different. They understood what awaited us. My mother told them about my plan and Sonia encouraged me. I parted, with kisses, from my relatives, from my mother, brothers and sisters, and ran home to the step.

I wore a hat and a coat whose lining was made of sheep's fur. I was barefoot because my foot was swollen. I crawled under the step. My brother brought me a liter bottle of water, a clay pot with blueberry jam and a canvas bag with cookies made of buckwheat flour. He pushed them towards me in a hurry and said goodbye. Between the two steps was a fairly wide crack that allowed me to see what was happening on the street.

The street began to fill with Jews. The Ukrainian police expedited the operation. There was a commotion, howls were heard and it was quiet again. I don't know if an hour has passed. I saw that our loved ones were walking to their death, families, families - without shouting. Their walk raised billows of dust. Suddenly I heard my sister Esther saying: “mother, don't talk to him, for they will kill him.” She meant me. I felt lonely. I lay without coughing and held my breath. The street began to empty. From time to time the gendarmes took some Jews out of their hiding places and led them. Some time passed, and I saw carts full of clothes coming back from the direction the Jews had been led. Among the clothes I noticed a coat of a girl from my class at school.

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Two Ukrainians sat down on the step, apparently policemen. They talked about the executions: the Jews were ordered to undress and enter the pits, they were shot with pistols
and laid layer by layer. Quite a few were buried alive. From later stories, told by Ukrainians, I have heard that the earth “worked” there a long time after the massacre.

It was not easy to lie down and hear all the horrors when two Ukrainians were sitting above me and only a plank separated us. When they left, I was relieved. Suddenly a dog came, turned next to me, sniffed, urinated, and walked away. This harassment also passed. It was very hot and I was suffocating. I could barely turn around. Occasionally I drank a little water. I tried not to fall asleep because I was afraid that I would be discovered. The Ukrainians and the Germans raged in the town.

The day passed and I fell asleep shortly before sunset. I woke up to the call of the roosters and the shouts of the celebrating Germans. They apparently continued their search because I heard the blast of breaking floors and walls. I had no plan. I knew that I should not stay there for another day. They might find me, and it was also difficult for me to hold on in such a narrow place.

On that day, the last Jews of Rafalovka, and the surrounding area, were exterminated. In the killing field, near the forest, 2,500 Jews were shot and killed by the German murderers and their Ukrainian helpers.



I carefully left the hideout and entered the garden. Suddenly I heard a rustle of footsteps and crawled back into the hideout. I lay down again for about half an hour and decided to run away. I jumped through the wooden fence and crossed the street. I came to a plot of land on which were beams of pine trees. From there a narrow alley led to the main street in the direction of the forest. The distance was less than a kilometer. I ran barefoot with all my might. Just so as not to get caught! I did not feel the pain in my foot despite the open wound. The silence of the street was torn by the barking of dogs. I reached the forest and hugged the first pine tree. I had a feeling that it was protecting me. I went into the depths of the forest and relaxed from the run. And here I am in the forest at night, after all, when I was in my mother's bosom I was afraid to go out at night! From now on I have to be independent and decide on the next step.

I started walking west through the forest to the road that led to Old Rafalovka, a walk of 12km. I did not get on the road but walked along it at some distance from it. From what I heard from the conversation of the two Ukrainians I passed not far from the mass grave of our loved ones. An idea popped up in me. At the edge of Old Rafalovka lived a farmer named Naum. He was a member of the Communist Party and I thought that he would not harm me. I walked on side roads and when dawn came I knocked on the window. The farmer's wife peeked out the window, she recognized me and the door opened. Naum immediately took me up to the attic, where he also slept, and raised the ladder. He told me that he was on constant alert of escape, and showed me a hole in the thatched roof through which one should escape and jump down.

I spent the next day, Sunday, under the roof. Since, he himself was a suspect and lived in fear, he advised me to go in the direction of the village of Sopachiv where Jews were hiding in the swamps. I did not know the Sopachiv area.

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When it turned dark, I left for the road. I followed the description I received. I passed the edge of the village of Babka and before Sopachiv I turned right in the direction of the swamps and the pastures. I went into a tangle of bushes and fell asleep. The next day I wandered in the meadow until the shepherds discovered me. They threatened to hand me over to the police. I asked them, what would they get out of it, and one of them took off my hat. They took the loot and I somehow I escaped. I went into a tangle of bushes and sat there until nightfall.

I was born in Rafalovka but most of the time we lived in Bilska Volya where we had a flour mill. I knew the farmers in the area especially from the village of Rudka. I decided to return to the path I had taken to the villages that were familiar to me. I left when it got dark. I walked in a field path. Suddenly a Ukrainian jumped on me, grabbed my neck and asked for my identity. I did not lose my temper and said that I was the son of Stefan from Sopachiv. And he: “no, you are a Zydek!” My clothes gave me away! I could not deal with him and he took me to the head of the village. In the village, a number of farmers sat on a bench in front of a house, among them the head of the village. Next to them stood a boy, who studied with me at school, and he asked them to let me go. Then, the head of the village said: “blood should not be shed in our village, get out of here quickly.” His wife, who was Polish, gave me a slice of bread and this time did not allow me to enter their house.

Between Babka and Rafalovka, on one of the hills near the Styr River, were felled trees that the authorities did not have time to sail on the river. I lay down between them and slept there overnight. The third day of my escape was over. I did not have water only a small slice of bread in my coat pocket. I sat and pondered about the home where I grew up and now I saw it in the distance. Nothing has changed for the Ukrainians. They moved the cattle across the river because they had pastures there. The days were harvest days and the harvested hay was transported by a ferry across the river. The days and nights were wonderful, but not for me. I had one wish - to find a boat and cross the river.

As night fell I went down to the river bank. First thing - I drank to saturation. There were boats there but they were chained and locked. The width of the river was about sixty meters. After searching I found an unchained boat. It was large and cracked and had water in it. I invested quite a bit of time to get it off the beach. There were no oars and I could not find a pole I in the dark. I directed it in the sweeping current with my hands. When I was close to the other side the boat filled with water. I could barely get close to the shore so I jumped into the water and reached the shore. There were meadows and vegetable gardens there. In one of the gardens I found cucumbers and kohlrabi. I ate as much as I could and filled my two pockets. On normal days I would probably get diarrhea.

Here I knew the roads, but not at night. I was helped by the stars. I walked towards the village of Sopachiv until I got dizzy and fainted. When I got up I felt weak. I became confused and instead of getting closer to my goal, I headed back towards the river. When I noticed my mistake, I ran back so I could to get to Rudka, a distance of about 15km from Rafalovka, before morning.

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I walked in the fields on the edge of the villages and arrived in Rudka before morning. I knocked on the window of a farmer named Radco who was in commercial contact with my father. He opened the window, handed me half a loaf of bread, and said he was afraid to let me into his house.

I ran for fear of the daylight to another farmer. His name was Chodos. During the Soviet rule he was chairman of the village. He received me nicely and hid me in the barn inside a haystack. He showed me an escape hatch and brought a good meal. He was in the field all day and left his two sons at home to look after me. One walked around the village and the other threshed grain in the barn.

I was there for several days. I gathered some strength and treated my injured foot. Here I learned that a few kilometers away are isolated farms called “khutor.” Baruch Schwarzblatt and Label Dick, both relatives who fled from work in Bilska Volya, found refuge in one of them. When Baruch saw me he was not happy at all with my arrival. From him I learned that Alter Freiman and his wife Rivka (Dov's parents) are in the “khutor.” I went to them and they received me with friendship and great love. I gave them the last greeting from their children. Alter told me that my aunt fled the ghetto and she was near him. He knew the roads and the farmers well because he was a cattle dealer. He was a sturdy man and not everyone dared to face him. Before evening the three of us left for Yamana. He walked with his big bare feet. The place, on the Polesie-Wolyn border, was very remote and thick and endless forests covered it. Groups of farms, or individual farms, were scattered there a kilometer apart.

We arrived in Yamana in the evening to the home of a widow. It was a wooden house with only one room and an oven inside. Around the house were wooden benches on which they sat and also slept, and the grain was stored inside them. Thick logs burnt in the stove (prepchuk) and illuminated the room. On the bench, opposite the flickering light, sat a young woman dressed in Ukrainian clothes and spun linen threads. It was my cousin, Esther Rosman, who knew me immediately. Meanwhile, Alter went to call my aunt Rivka who was in the forest. There was no limit to the excitement. Here, near the house, I learned that it was the eve of Rosh Hashanah 1942. We all went into the depths of the forest on which no Jewish foot had ever trodden. With my aunt were also her two sons, Sander and Yisrael, a one-year-old baby. They erected a hut there from branches and lit a fire. Alter prayed the Rosh Hashanah prayers he remembered and also asked me to pray. For the first time I had a conflict with God! I told them how honest and faithful people went to the slaughter, Torah scrolls in their hands and Shema Yisrael in their mouths. We sat around the fire and remembered our loved ones. We fell asleep where we were sating.

The first day of Rosh Hashanah, 1942. We ate potatoes roasted in the campfire (pechinches) and boiled potatoes with dried fish. There was no salt.

On the same day I met my cousins, Sioma and Leibel. Sioma was known as a wise and brave young man. In a short period of time he learned the trails of Polesie forests. He received information that Soviet paratroopers were circulating in the area and operating as partisans. This fascinated me a lot, but the thought was naive, we decided to look for them.

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With a Baptist family

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah we left for the road, Sioma, Leibel and me. We were dressed in Ukrainian clothes: white shirt, linen pants and sandals made of bark and tied with ropes. It was easy to identify Leibel as a Jew because of his long nose and his way of speaking. We walked in the direction of Morochne in the Pinsk area. There, it was only possible to advance on foot. It was a vast marsh area and from place to place it was necessary to cross on wooden beams. Only in winter it was possible to cross the frozen marshes with horses. We have arrived in Yurkovo. On the way were isolated farms that were scattered over many square kilometers. We approached a house that stood out in its exterior from the others. A young man, dressed in Sunday's festive attire, approached us. He noticed that we were Jews and invited us inside. I was concerned, but we entered. There were no pictures of Jesus there and from that I understood who these people were. They were Baptists and their surname was Oshorko. The man put a pot of borscht and a bowl of honey on the table. His mother also received us warmly. Ivan Oshorko explained to us that his father is a preacher (“Propovednik”). He is in prayer and he will be happy to see us. He offered us to stay the night with them. It was an unusual case at that period of 1942. We slept in the barn hidden deep inside the hay. Early in the morning they woke us up for breakfast.

The house stood at the foot of a mountain, inside bushes and various fruit trees, and at the end stood a blue beehive. Behind the house were large forests. The house contained one large room with one entrance, and on the right side stood a typical Ukrainian stove in which they baked bread, cooked meals and heated the house. In winter they put the chickens under the oven. When we showed up in the morning, a short, bespectacled middle-aged man was waiting for us in the doorway. He held the “New Testament” in his hand and greeted us with a handshake. He was the head of the family. He opened the book and read from it: “Bless be God who brought the children of Israel from the land of Egypt.” Then he added his own: “Bless be God who will gather he children of Israel from all the ends of the world.” He walked to a sack of rye, which stood on a bench, put handful of kernels in a sifter, shook it several times and said in pathos: “Look how the kernels are concentrated in one place, and so you will gather after the war in the Holy Land” and added: “Those who survived will be saved” and closed his eyes.

We sat around the table, eight locals and the three of us. Grandfather Nikolai, that was the name of the homeowner, stood up and said with his eyes closed: “God save my family and the nation of Israel.” This was the whole prayer.

Breakfast was their main meal. The food was served in a shared way, the “borscht” and the porridge were in bowls that stood in the middle of the table and everyone took from the same bowl, each with a spoon in his hand. The meal was conducted quietly and with proper behavior on the part of the sons.

After the meal they rested for about half an hour and went to work. Grandfather Nikolai said: “You Leibel, you are an adult and you can take care of yourself. You, Sioma, you have a family and I would be happy to meet them and will also come to your aid. And you, Alexander, he turned to me, “you are an orphan from father and mother, you will stay with me, after the war you will come to the Holy Land and send me a request to come as a pilgrim for two months, to walk in the mountains and visit the tomb of the Christian Jesus.”

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I stayed with the Oshorko family for about eight months. He called me Nibuz (merciful) and I called him dedushka (grandfather). I was hidden for about two months, at least from strangers. Only two families knew about it. It seems to me that it was a great honor for them to hide me. During the day I was in the hayloft and was invited to eat the meals in the house. In the first period they gave me a book in Polish about raising bees. I found interest in it and translated it into Ukrainian. I also taught arithmetic to the two little boys. The boys' attitude towards me was also extraordinary. Not only did they share everything they had with me, they also discriminated against me for good.

One Sundays, in November 1942, during breakfast, one of the boys saw a cart approaching from the direction of Morochne and in it were people in uniform. They told me to enter the forest behind the barn and lie down in it. It seemed that out of panic I climbed the hill on the opposite side and hid among the bushes. The puddles were frozen and after waiting for several hours I felt that I was freezing. I assumed that the people in uniform must have left and the family did not know where to look for me. I decided to go back. When I came down the hill I saw a cart with Ukrainian and German policemen traveling in my direction. My legs were paralyzed and I could not escape. They shouted to stand and fired over my head. The mind told me to escape but the legs failed. Somehow I escaped between the bushes and into the forest. They kept firing. I threw away the brown sheepskin to make it easier for me to escape. One of the bark sandals fell off my foot after the rope came loose, and the rag that wrapped around the foot also fell off. With one bare foot I walked a few kilometers around away and reached the farm. I could not get a single word out of my mouth. After they gave me milk and honey to drink, I told them about my mistake. It turned out that these were Ukrainian policemen who came to look for Jews and gypsies.

When it got colder, the family decided that I should sleep in the house. In case of danger I had to get under the stove and be with the chickens. It was December and it was already snowing outside. At night there were knocks on the door and I hid among the chickens. Eight armed men entered, greeted in Russian and asked for a hot drink and food. Grandfather Nikolai warmed a bottle of honey and poured it for them on a plate. From their conversation it turned out that they were partisans from the “Big Land,” that is, from the unoccupied areas of the Soviet Union. These were the first fighters to parachute behind enemy lines. Among them was also a Jew and it was easy to identify him. At meal time I pulled grandfather's leg. I wanted to go out but he strongly objected. That night they burned down a spirit factory in Borove that the Germans and sent its produce to the front, and carried out additional operations.

The behavior of the Oshorko family aroused interest and reactions among people who needed help and rescue. Grandfather Nikolai once said to me, “My house is like the house of Avraham Avinu - whoever enters hungry go out full. Every Jew you meet you can bring him to me - everyone is invited to visit my home.” Nikolai, the head of the family, had a great influence in his community, especially in sermons and public prayers and many followed in his footsteps.

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I started helping with the farm work. I fed the cows, took the manure out of the barn and took care of the beehives. The son Yasha and I went to the forest and brought firewood. The lice bothered us all. They moved from garment to garment even though we tried to keep it clean. We took off our shirt and burn the lice over the campfire.

I had scabies that spread to most parts of the body. Grandfather Nikolai obtained a healing ointment which was made from various plants with the addition of sulfur. The treatment caused a lot of pain. Grandfather Nikolai eased my anguish with endearing words of reassurance. He treated me quickly until I recovered.

From time to time I visited the Rosman family in the Yamana area. They built a dugout in the ground and lived there with several other Jews. The main fear was from the first snow because the footprints could lead to hiding place. Therefore, they prepared food for an emergency. The Germans carried out raids in the forests when the snow covered the ground.
Once, I went to visit two Jews who hid on an island inside the Polesie marshes and spent the night with them. I returned to Yurkovo the next day. On my way back there was heavy fog. I wandered for hours until I found my way home. There were also Jews who visited me, among them my cousins Yosef and Bella Dick. Yosef and Bella left the ghetto when it was surrounded. A number of friends got organized and one of them knew a Ukrainian policeman, a murderer like the others, but he helped them to get out. The group split up and some of its members were killed. For about ten days Yosef and Bella roamed the fields and the forests. On the way they met a Ukrainian policeman that Yosef once helped him to get a job. Now he bought his life from him at the price of his watch. Such was the “friendship.” One day they came across a gentile who robbed their boots. Yosef continued his wanderings barefoot and his foot was injured and swollen. After ten days of hardship, the couple managed to get on the boat to Sopachevska Khuta, on the other side of the Styr River. It was a Polish village and there they found an acquaintance named Kababowicz. He was a feldscher, meaning, a healer or senior medic, a common profession in the area. He put Yosef in bed in his house and took care of him for three days until he recovered. Bella worked in sewing for their existence. After work she returned to the forest where several families were concentrated. She once told two people, who bothered her with questions, that she was on her way to “buy salt.” They said that they were also searching for salt. The blood rose to her head and her legs failed. She understood that their intention was to find the place where Jewish families lived. Meanwhile, dogs appeared and to her delight Kababowicz the feldscher came towards her. When he heard from the two escorts that they were going “with this babushka” to buy salt, he warned them against the “crazy woman” and directed them in another direction. That's how she got rid of the harassment.
A rumor spread that a strange man in a long fur is wandering in the area and harassing people. Bella once returned from the village to the forest with a pitcher of cream and bread in her hands. Suddenly, she saw a man walking towards her wearing a fur and a hat. She panicked and began to run away. She fainted from fear and when she woke up she found herself in the arms of her husband Yosef. It turned out that he was scary “fur man.” One day her partisan brother came to visit them, Yosef put on his fur and went out to meet her when she returned to their place in forest.

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In the same area there was another cult of believers, a Baptist cult called “Yazichniki.” Among them were “extraordinary people,” who spoke the “language of God,” that they themselves did not understand. In the winter of 1942, when I met Sioma, we decided to visit my cousin Fanya, who was in the Cermina khutor in the Morochne area, a long distance from Yorkovo. Fanya was hidden by a farmer from the “Yazichniki” cult. When we reached them, we learned that on that day the Germans attacked the forest in the area and murdered the Jews. They tied some of the Jews to a cart and dragged them on the ground.

Before going to bed the cult members knelt down and one of the “Yazichniki” girls went into ecstasy and spoke an incomprehensible language, not to her and not to us. I remember that I got chills and to this day I have no explanation for the strange phenomenon of this cult.

At the front there was a turn against the Germans. The partisans began to harass them and took over the entire areas of forests and villages. The Germans fortified themselves only along the railroad or in the big cities. The more defeats they suffered the crueler they have become.

They burnt whole villages. Refugees from nearby farms arrived to Oshorko's home. The partisan movement grew and the Jews were safer under their protection.

Published in “Yalkut Moreshet” [Holocaust Documentation and Research], Volume 46 - Nisan 5749 (April 1989), Tel-Aviv.


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