Translation by Sara Mages
(Testimony of Penina Shavit née Brat from Rafalovka, about the town and her activity in the partisans in the Polesie Region)
My name is Penina Shavit. I was born into the Brat family. At home I was called Pola. I was born on 12.12.1923 in the town of Rafalovka where I spent my childhood. I studied at the Hebrew school Tarbut.
Our town spoke Hebrew and Yiddish. I would like to point out that I first studied Hebrew and then Yiddish. It was possible walk down the street and hear youth-battalions, young, small, kindergarten children - speak Hebrew like here in Israel.
Question: How many residents did the town have?Answer: According to my memory, between 5000-6000 before the war. But with the outbreak of the war the bizhenikim - refugees, who fled from the other side of the Bug River, were added to us. Our town was hospitable. Most of the people who passed through the town stayed with us for a while, and a cohesive community of helpers and those who received help was created. I remember that my mother brought nine people to our house. They lived with us for three months even though the situation was already pretty bad. Of them one family remained alive after the war.
I don't think that there were many towns in Poland who were similar to our town. First, because it was a Zionist town - it had many well-developed youth movements. There was a Tarbut school. Only two families sent their children to the Polish school, all the rest studied at Tarbut school - even though it cost a lot of money. Poor families couldn't afford to send their children to this school. Their share of the tuition, and other expenses at school, were paid by all the parents, among them was my father who paid for seven years, for children from poor families.
The community was cohesive. There were town leaders. I was very young, but I remember them: Hershel Brezniak, chairman of the community committee, after him was Zelig Lesnik, there was the Murik family and the Meniuk family. I should especially mention the Pinchuk family, the mother of the family, Reitse Pinczuk, who according to her deeds and status was the mother of the whole town. She helped in time of joy and in time of need. Her brother, Tanenbaum, was a community activist and member of the school committee. I should also mention the school teachers. Most of them perished in the ghetto and I'll remember them forever. The school was something great.
Several of its teachers immigrated to Israel. To our sorrow they passed away here, my first principal Mr. Sarid and the teacher Mr. Gilboa. My last principal, Mr. Shnerer, perished in the ghetto.
It was a town of observant Jews, Zionists and Jews of all days of the year. It was something so beautiful - the holidays, the Sabbath, the involvement of the town's Jews in the life of the people, in the life of the homeland.
Thirty years ago I already knew songs about the homeland. We were taught homeland songs that are still sung in Israel today.
The school in Rafalovka was at a very high level. We memorized a lot of poems by Bialik and passages from the Bible, and I remember them to this day. My children are amazed and say: mother, you also know that by heart! Yes, its' been thirty years since I learned that.
I remember my town as something sacred that no longer exists, that will not be, will not be again. I don't include the environment and the entire state of Poland. Our town was something special.
Question: The Jews made up the majority of the residents there?Answer: The Jews made up the majority of the inhabitants within the town, and all around were the Gentiles. On Saturday the businesses were closed, on Sunday they were open.
My family situation was good. We had a grain business and field business. We had two shops and a factory for beer, soda and vinegar. At first we had a livestock business. My father supplied the goods to the Polish army.
I had a brother in the Polish army, Dov Brat. He was a young officer, from the best youth in town. He had to report immediately after the outbreak of war. He left on September 1, 1939 (I think), and didn't return. He sent letters to his gentile friends and they forwarded the letters to us. He was captured by the Germans. We were told that he was in Germany at the beginning of the captivity. Later he was transferred to Poland. And finally, before the victory, he was near Majdanek, in Lublin. He didn't return.
My father was involved with the gentiles who were his clients. When the war broke out he said, repeated and said: escape, escape! The question arises, why did we not flee with the Russians?
Father was a kulak, a rich man by their concepts, and he was afraid that they would always say: You were a rich man and you were an exploiter (he owned lands).
The mayor, a man from the Soviet Union, begged us: travel with me, I'll give you a rail car, I'll rehabilitate you. But it wasn't easy for my father, like any Jew, to leave everything. We stayed, and to this day I regret that we didn't travel to Russia.
And then the troubles began. The Germans entered our town on June 22, 1941. At first the Russians were in town - from September 1939 to the beginning of June 1941. Then the Germans came. It's impossible to describe in words the situation in the period between the departure of the Russians and the entry of the Germans. The Ukrainians, our friends for hundreds of years, attacked every Jewish home and stole everything they could put their hands on. They put us by the walls, or we have already stood there, and took it all.
I want to point out an episode, even though it is painful, it is also funny. I played the guitar. I received it in the city of Rivne at the Singing Olympics as a prize for a song. I kept it because it also raised my pride. The Ukrainians came with big sacks, but since the guitar was big it filled the whole sack. A woman approached, took down the guitar, broke it in two and put it in the sack. I started crying and laughing hysterically, I said to myself, I will not play, but you will not play either, but in my heart...
My music teacher Mr. Rosenthal taught German and music at school. On the same day they took the guitar from me, they also entered his house because he lived across from us. They took from him what was dearest to him in the world - a Stradivarius Violin. He said to them, I'll give you everything, take off my pants, but leave the violin. The violin also took up a lot of space in the sack, so she broke it in two and put it in the sack. The teacher fainted. I was later told that he had perished in the ghetto.
When we were left destitute, we didn't regret anything, we just asked that they keep us alive. My father was always the one who said: objects are nothing, money is nothing, when we stay alive - we will have everything again.
The Germans came. They didn't stay with us. They contented themselves with organizing the Ukrainians who were worse than the Germans. The Germans left one or two of their own, and the revelry began.
With the outbreak of the war, a year after I graduated Tarbut school, I couldn't travel to study in the city of Kovel, and therefore I studied for one year at the Russian-Ukrainian school. My classmates became members of the militia during the German occupation. They were the worst. They started the party at five in the morning with gunfire and shouting: we will show you! We will finish you off! This is just the beginning! During the day they were embarrassed to beat and rob openly, at night they visited the houses, probably according to a list. They visited three houses - our house was the first.
I want to tell about an event that happened on one of the nights of November 1941. This night is etched in my memory with all its horrors. We sat on benches because tables and chairs were no longer in the house. We sat in the company of our neighbors and talked. The question always repeated itself: what will happen? what to do? and my father always answered: we must flee! If only there would be a possibility - we must flee! and on the question: where? he said: to the forest, and later God will help us.
Suddenly we heard a knock on the door - Simcha, open! Father jumped out of the window and in doing so he escaped a certain death. Five people entered and among them I must mention the murderer, Mikhal. I don't remember his last name, a Ukrainian, may his name be blotted out. He was known in the town as Mikhal the drunk, a strong man who frightened every living person. He was masked and thought that we didn't recognize him.
Question: He was a policeman?Answer: He was an organizer, but he didn't wear uniform because he always took care of the future. He started to shout: money and gold! mother immediately whispered to us: stay close to me. In the meantime they searched everywhere on the pretext that they were looking for my father. They took all that was left. Then they started to beat us. Mother took the three of us, the three girls, hugged us and with supreme power didn't let them take one of us. She protected us to such extent that he, and the five of them, hit us on our heads, on our arms, on her arms and her head, with their rifle butts.
She wasn't a strong woman, but they couldn't separate us. The killers saw that they couldn't separate us so they dragged us to the cellar. Mikhal said: if you don't let us separate you - I'll throw this whole quartet in the cellar... and we saw our grave before our eyes. We started to scream. The Germans, who lived behind our house, heard and started firing. The five of them panicked and left us.
I cannot describe in words how we were left that night. Bleeding and blue. It's hard to describe the horror. People, who started to enter our home in the morning, didn't recognize us. We were swollen and we couldn't lift an arm or a leg. We didn't see ourselves - there was no mirror in the house.
When my father entered he started to shout: why did I leave you! But we blessed Birkat Hagomel [deliverance from danger], because if he was at home, and resisted, they would have killed him. The harvest of that night was two killed.
In the morning, when people gathered in our house, everyone wanted to help us. In fact, no one could help because, what could have been done? In this way we stayed in the ghetto for a year and a half.
Question: When was the ghetto established?Answer: It was established at the end of 1941, and it was liquidated at the end of 1942.
They brought people from all the nearby towns to the ghetto, from Stara Rafalovka, Olizarka, Zoludzk and the vicinity. They put twenty five people in one room. We had a big house with nine or ten rooms, and there were twenty five people in each room. Of course, those they brought - they brought with nothing. My father left the ghetto at night to friends, and there were also those. They were Righteous Among the Nations who really helped us. He brought food for those who lived in our house. We were not hungry but we were not full.
Question: Did you work?Answer: The Germans demanded to establish a Judenrat. It was their first act. If it will be bad for you - the evil will come from you. They took to work in the forests, to clean for the polizistim [police officers] (Alas for those who have gone], and also for laying the railroad tracks.
It is possible to say that the life in the ghetto was organized. Families helped each other. The chairman of the community committee was Zelig Lisak. In the end he poisoned himself because he didn't want to go to the pits.
Of course, the most suffering was caused by the contributions. I think, my father had to give a kilogram and a half of gold. I remember that a few grams were missing to the allotted amount. He left at night to a gentile, who was disabled from the First World War, and father knew he had gold. Father gave him all kinds of jewelry and said to him: if I survive the war I'll return yours and you'll return mine. If not - you'll keep it. When he returned to the ghetto he was almost caught, but somehow he arrived home and brought what was missing. We paid.
Of course, after such an operation the appetite increased. And so it was every week. Every month was something new until the total liquidation of the ghetto. The liquidation was sudden despite the rumors that all the men in the nearby town of Maneviychi were abducted. My father's entire family was there. There were four brothers and two sisters, none of them remained. There have been rumors that they grab people, and these people don't come back.
Father insisted: escape! escape! One clear day a friend came to the factory and said: you must know that you are surrounded. In the evening father said: I have friends about sixty five kilometres from here, if anyone manages to escape, he should come to the village of Ozertsi. The village was known for the worst bandits in the area, and they saved us.
Question: They were Russians?Answer: Ukrainians. They planned it together with my father. If we can somehow reach them - they'll help us. When we were told that there was a special activity around the town, I sent father to work in the forest. I said to him: when they'll call you - go to the forest. We sent my brother and my cousin Meir Goldorin (who was educated in our home after his parents died) to the forest after father. Both were ten years old. Only later did we learn that they had arrived. So there were already three in the forest: my father, my brother Ziska and my cousin Meir. We remained at home with mother, my sister Rachel, my sister Miriam and my cousin Yentel, Meir's sister. Mother kept on saying all the time: from where will my help come? I really want to send you away from home. So we argued: what does it mean to send! If we go - we'll all go. Then my mother said: no, my dear children, I still remember 1905, later the First World War, and I can no longer bear it, I'll not go. My sister Rachel said that she will not leave mother and Miriam and I were in a dilemma. We didn't know if we should go to father or stay with mother.
The Ukrainians surrounded the town on all sides. They came from all the militias in the villages. Among them were maybe a few Germans. Somehow our friend entered and said to us: you must know that they are digging pits nearby, I don't know what will happen, but three pits are being dug about two kilometers from the town and I'm very worried about you. His name was Boris. I don't remember his surname. He was a Ukrainian from Sukjovolya. I will be very happy to take your daughters, but I don't know how to pass with them. I'll be able to send them - I'll send clothes with my sister. Dress them and send them, and I'll take them later.
Question: He was your neighbor?Answer: He was from a nearby village. He really sent his sister with two Ukrainian outfits. She walked ahead. Mother sent me after her and said that she would send Miriam after me. I reached the first crossing of the town. It was a Ukrainian farm. My friend from the Ukrainian school stood there. I turn to him and said: Panasiuk, I'm sure that you'll let me pass. We studied together and we sat on the same bench.
He looked at me and said: you have a nice watch, put the watch on the ground and I'll let you pass. I took of the watch off my hand and the moment I put it on the ground he came and grabbed it. He aimed his rifle at me and said: now you go back, if not - you'll be killed on the spot, I started to ask him, it didn't help.
I returned home and my rescuer, who wanted to get me out, went to her home. When mother saw that I didn't leave, she said: don't despair, we'll try something different. My sister, Miriam still worked at the factory for the Ukrainians. She was sort of an expert and for that reason they didn't expel her. Of course, she didn't get paid, only a little water, or the little sugar she stole from the sack.
That day the same rescuer, who saved almost half of my family, arrived. He entered the yard and said to mother: send them away. So mother said: take them, they can no longer go through the blockade around the town. While he was talking, another entered - the head of the village of Valka. Mother started to kiss his hand and asked: save at least my two little girls. I don't remember his name.
The village of Valka was about 65km from us. The head of this village was one of the collaborators with the Germans. He entered our yard on the pretext that he was loading goods from the factory. I now remember big horses and a huge wagon with a seat on it. This is exactly what he told my mother: on this seat sat three Ukrainian militiamen, and I'll seat the girls under the seat. If I can do it - I'll pass them. If not - they'll kill me together with them.
Mother didn't believe what she heard. She started to say to him; you'll not regret it, we'll go through the war and you'll be the happiest man. I don't know why, because at that moment my mother didn't pay him. Maybe they just loved my father, or it was some miracle from heaven because he also didn't receive a payment.
I got in the wagon at ten in the morning and it stood in the yard until three in the afternoon. The head of the village covered me with hay on all sides. I remember how my mother stood at the door and didn't move from the doorframe as if she was talking inside, and she talked to me: my beloved Pesa'le, be strong, go through the war, but remember that you are Jewish. I remember that all my life. Indeed, I was in very difficult situations, but I remembered that.
At three o'clock he took the horses out (together with me). Mother didn't move from the doorframe because no one was allowed to feel that I was in the wagon. We left the house, I don't know with what force I didn't shout, I didn't cry, I was petrified. Since then I haven't seen my mother. For camouflage he put the wagon inside the militia yard. I see them, I hear them, they sit on me, and I'm inside the wagon. In this way we began to travel into the unknown.
We passed through Stara Rafalovka, and one of them kicked me on the head with his boot. I thought he felt that there was something under him. I thought: enough, this is the end. But I consoled myself - he'll throw me into the Styr [River]... he probably didn't notice. We drove on.
We arrived in the village late at night. I have never been to this village. He brought the wagon to the yard. The policemen jumped and left. He put the wagon in the stable and after they left he turned to me: you are still alive or you suffocated there? I showed a sign of life even though I was bleeding from all parts of my body. The cart jumped and my face was scratched. Somehow he got me out. I also couldn't extract my arms and legs because I was folded from ten in the morning to eight or nine in the evening. I went out to the stable. I didn't know it was a stable, because I didn't know what was happening to me. I responded to what he said to me, I was petrified.
He patted me on the shoulder and said: that's it, you're here with me, and I'm going home. I'll tell my wife that I brought you (they knew my family). I'll bring you food. A long time has passed, I couldn't tell how long because I didn't have a watch, I had nothing, but a very long time passed and he appeared with a bucket, and inside the bucket was hidden a bowl with food. Of course, I didn't eat, I wasn't hungry, I didn't know what was wrong with me.
Then he said: settle up there on the roof, on the hay, and we'll see what happens. That's how my life began in his stable. Every rustle - the sound of the pigs, the sound of the poultry, the sound of the cow, the sound of the horse - told me, the Germans are getting closer.
Of course, when I recovered a bit I started to cry, but it was forbidden to cry because they could hear me. I cried in my heart. I was amazed at what I had done. What did I do? - I left a home, if it was still possible to call it a home - my mother, my sister, my cousin, I didn't know where my father and the boys...
He, or she, appeared twice a day. They brought me food, once this food was mixed with the pigs' food because they didn't pay attention. It wasn't important. I never felt hungry and didn't feel thirsty. I ate because he brought food, and I drank when she said: you must drink. I cried a lot. I didn't know if it was a superhuman power or the willpower to live. I sat for days and nights on the roof without going down. I used a bucket for my needs.
On the third night after he took me out of the ghetto he came and asked me: what is your name?- Pola. You know, Pola, I'll still try to travel to your mother and maybe she'll be able to give me something to save for you. Write a few words that I brought you alive, and I'll go.
He woke up very early in the morning. I wrote him a letter to my mother. He stuck it somewhere so they wouldn't find it, and drove to my mother. Of course, until nightfall, until he returned, I looked through every crack in the roof. And he appeared with news in his mouth: your mother is still alive, your older sister Rachel and your cousin Yentel are sitting at home and praying until the rage passes. Your mother couldn't give me anything because there was nothing left in the house.
But I knew that there was still something to give, and I didn't believe him. He brought me a note from my mother, again with the words: be strong, be brave, and remember that you're Jewish.
And another incident, after he returned I started to ask him for one thing, to let me inside the house so I could was my hair, if not my body. He said, I'll try. He came very late at night, quietly opened the stable, and I entered his house. Of course, I saw some things from my house. I couldn't even get angry, because he was still my savior and I thought in my heart, even if he said to me, I would have said: of course, everything would be left for you, and I'll add if I stay alive. I bathed a little and immediately went back to the hideout.
Two weeks later I turned to him and said: I have a request for you. In a nearby village called Ozertsi, you know the head of the village- I remember his first name, he was called Metepei, I don't remember his surname, and I'm telling him the story - we made an agreement with father that if anyone remains alive - to turn to him and he'll be our contact. The one I stayed with was the head of the village of Valka. I have a request for you, if you want me to survive, go to him and tell him that Pola is staying with you, and ask him if anyone came to him. It was two to three weeks after everything - if anyone remained, he was able to reach him. If not, I have nothing to live for.
Question: Do you remember when it was, approximately?Answer: The liquidation of the ghetto was on 28.8.1942. I left on Wednesday and the liquidation was on Saturday. On Friday he traveled to my mother and she was still alive, and he told me that she prepared food for the Sabbath. On Saturday, at ten in the morning she was no longer alive. I asked him: go to the village of and ask if someone remained alive. I cried so much, and I asked him so much, that he said, I'll go on Sunday morning.
Again, I waited until he came back (a distance of 20-30km). He came to me and said: listen, he said that he does not know you, none of you was left, and he didn't want to believe that you're with me. At that moment I saw that the gentile was afraid, because if he didn't believe, and said that he didn't know us - it is a sign that he was afraid.
I didn't sleep all night and decided in my heart: I'm going to him. I told the farmer: I really thank you for saving me, but if I wouldn't find anyone - I wouldn't live. I want to go to this village. I have a big request for you - maybe your wife can give me a skirt and a shirt? I'll go to this village. He started to cry: what, I saved you and you're going to a certain death? There are Germans in the village (it was a bigger village). I said: it is not important, I'll somehow get there, and if no one is alive - for me it is the same thing.
He said: well, next Sunday I'll lead you with a horse to the entrance of the village and I'll show you where to walk. And so he did. He dressed me in his wife's clothes. I spoke Ukrainian pretty well. He told me: go straight on this road. The first house with red windows is the house of the head of the village. Be careful, I think that they'll let me know today that they killed you. It is a pity that I took you out, because I'm sure that they'll kill you. I kissed him and never saw him again. After the war I found out that the partisans killed him for his collaboration with the Germans. I'm sorry, because he saved me for free, maybe for what my mother gave him at the end, not at the beginning. Of course, I'll be grateful to him all my life, even though he is no longer alive.
As I got off the cart of the man who saved me, at a distance of about ten meters I saw a cart with Germans approached me. It was so sudden that I couldn't escape. Of course, I was convinced it was my end. But they only asked me if they were traveling in the right direction. I knew Ukrainian as well as German. Out of instinct I answered in Ukrainian, because if I had answered in German, they would have recognized that I was Jewish. I told them yes, you are traveling in the right direction. I don't know how my legs didn't fail me, how I remained standing. I came petrified to the window of that house.
It turned out that the head of the village saw me from a distance and recognized me. I saw through the window that his house was full of gentiles and he only made me a sign not to speak. I entered his room, he was white as snow. He instructed me to enter the second room. His wife knew me. I knitted sweaters for them in the ghetto and he brought us some barley and some flour. He kept his finger on his mouth - don't speak - and he left. I stayed with the gentile woman. She was more petrified than I was and didn't utter a word. She didn't ask, she didn't say, but put rice with milk on the table for me. Of course I didn't touch it.
Half an hour later Matepei came with a note in his hand and I read: your father, Ziskin and Miriam slept in my house. I fainted and lost my voice for three days. I didn't utter a word for three days, I just cried. She was very frightened and poured water on me. She was so frightened that she didn't know what to do.
I recovered. He took out another note and on it was marked how to get to the house where I would be able to see them. I grabbed the note. I had no idea how to walk even though he drew it for me on the paper. He showed me the way with his hand. I started to run. There were terrible swamps there. Anyone who didn't know how to set foot there didn't go out. I probably got into the biggest swamp. Luckily for me, a gentile walked on the road with two bulls and started to shout: where are you going? You are going to die! You are going to drown there immediately. Go back and walk on the road that I'm walking on with the bulls. He walked in the opposite direction, but showed me how to walk. It was a distance of about six kilometers. I ran, I don't know how.
Question: Was it in the same village?Answer: It was in the same village, but at the edge of the village, a secluded house between deep swamps in the forest. He probably housed them with his friend. It turned out that my father also knew him. I ran and saw ahead of me a house on a small hill, the stable door opened and closed, opened and closed. I understood that someone was standing on guard.
A lot of thoughts went through my little head. I was scared of the meeting. Suddenly, I heard a dog barking and saw figures moving in the stable. Apparently they were scared and stood on guard to see who was coming. I ran to the stable. The first I recognized was my sister who was dressed in gentile clothes, local clothes, then the children - Meir and my brother Ziska. Father stood in front of me but I didn't recognize him, why? Because my father had a beard and now he was shaved, he only had a mustache and a casket hat like the Ukrainians. Since I didn't recognize him I started to shout: what, it that not true? - he told me that father is alive and he is not! Then, father started to cry and said: Pola, here, it is me.
It is hard to describe the moment when all of us fell on the floor and hugged. We were happy that at least half of our family was left. And only then the troubles began.
How a very poor gentile, who hardly has enough bread for himself, can feed five people.
All of us stayed with this gentile for a week. We didn't care if we had food or not. Everyone thought in his heart: maybe it is the last week that we are together. No one was sure at that time, although father said from the first moment: trust, believe, God will help us.
One evening the homeowner came and said: my friend, with all my good will I cannot keep five people. I cannot do it financially, and I'm also afraid. after the war we found out that this man was a murderer. He murdered Jews in the First World War. And again I feel - I don't know for what - with what miracle he saved us. Not only did he save us, he later took care of other hiding places, like what we had before. Not for a payment and not even for valuables. His name was Danilo, but I don't remember his surname.
One evening he turned to father and said: I have an acquaintance and maybe I would be able to give one daughter to this man. Of course, I was the first. I went to a gentile named Grissim Dimitrok, a distance of two kilometers. His house was also isolated. There were six houses in that place. He came in the evening, he knew me. He was also in our house, even in the ghetto. He looked at us and said: I feel sorry for you, what you had and what you have left. To this father said to him, Grissim, it's not what we had, the main thing is that we remained. He was truly a Righteous Among the Nations. I don't know, maybe he thought that after the war he would enjoy it. At that moment he received nothing - only me.
Again, I parted from everyone. I went to him with joy because it was only two kilometers and maybe I could go back and see the others.
I was with Grissim from the beginning of September to 14 January 1943. At first I sat in his house behind a wall so that no one could see me. But, I still had to leave the house for a moment and a neighbor saw me. A rumor passed that there is a Jewish woman at Grissim's place. I survived behind the wall. I knitted from two in the morning - until ten at night, and all over again.
This gentile's house has been the best place for me since I fled from home. The house was clean. Compared to others, these people were cultured. She was once a maid for a Graf near the forest, she was very clean and very nice. But, there is no good without the bad - with them was her 92 years old mother and every morning, like clockwork, she approached me, crossed her arms and said to me: you murdered my God, you crucified him. This was my breakfast. At first I cried a lot, in the end I didn't react. After all, there was nothing I could do.
When he returned home he used to say to me about his mother-in-law - don't listen to her, she is crazy, it is not important, what do you care?
At first I knitted for him. When his work was done he took me to all six houses. I was very very happy. I earned my food, rags for my feet (it was already winter, snow). I wrapped my feet with rags. My biggest request from them was two more rags so I could run and wrap father's feet.
My father stayed with that gentile for about two more weeks. He found a place only for my sister. My sister went to another gentile and was a shepherdess for the duration of the war for a special sect called Shtundist. They are Righteous Among the Nations, and all my life I'm sorry that something terrible happened to them. When the Russians entered they didn't want to take a rifle in hand. The Russians exiled them to a place called Stanitsa Bezvodnaya [Rural Settlement of Maykopsky District, Russia].The name of the place testifies to itself. All of them perished there.
Question: They were murdered?Answer: No. they died of starvation. None of them was left. It was a sect that helped. They knew the bible by heart. They always said: your promised land is waiting for you, and you, the survivors, will get there.
Father walked around with the two boys for three years, he was not in the same place for three nights.
As I said, I was in the same place until 14 January. Rumors began to circulate that there were Russian partisans in the vicinity of the forests. In my heart I prayed that no one would know about me, I'm fine here, I'm working. They were very pleased. I worked days and nights, my fingers... By the way, since then, I don't knit because it sends chills through me. I didn't have a knitting needle so I made a knitting needle from some wire. It always entered my finger, to the meat. Despite this I continued to knit.
On 14 January, at night, the partisans came and said to Grissim
I always returned to him somehow. This whole area greatly helped the Jews. Once, early in the morning, I saw a Jew peeking out of the forest, because who could peek and hide, peek and hide, if not a Jew? My benefactor said: go, call him and I'll give him food. It was the first Jew I saw, apart from my family. Of course we hugged, it wasn't important if we knew each other or not, he was a Jew.
My benefactor gave the Jew a shirt and told him to leave his shirt with the lice. His wife will wash it and when he will come to change it... I gave him food and he left. This Jew really survived.
And so, on14 January the partisans came and said to my benefactor: there is a Jewish woman in you place, we came to take her. I started crying terribly, I said: I'm not Jewish, I'm a family member, and I'm from a small village. Apparently they had already gathered information and knew exactly, they said: don't pretend, as soon as we leave this area and the Germans will know that the partisans were here, they will come and kill you. It didn't help. My benefactor cried and didn't let me go. He said: if you only knew what family she came from, you wouldn't take her. You don't have enough women who run after you? Do you need a sixteen or a seventeen year old girl? It didn't help. They took me. I cried, I was afraid, I said: who knows under what tree I will lie down.
I was wrong. They took me, and it was already the beginning of their organization. They brought me to a battalion that already included 28-30 men. They settled down at the forest ranger house. We entered, and the men were happy and cheerful - they brought a prey. I got off the cart. The commander approached me, looked from top to bottom, and said: not a bad rose, but she didn't develop on time. The words were quite touching. At that moment I thought that maybe this is a nice person, maybe I'll not be harmed. I recovered a little and he brought me inside the house and said: well, we now have a woman in the house, she will tidy up, she will clean and, of course, she'll do the laundry.
And indeed, I was in that battalion for the first three months without knowing the center or anything else. I only knew the commander of this battalion and the 28 men under his command. I later learned that this was the main point between the Germans and the partisans. It was a kind of observation. These three months have passed without me feeling anything because I was very busy. I cooked for them, washed their laundry, I cleaned and I was quite satisfied.
After three months I started to wonder if it was possible to somehow reach my father and the boys, or find out where they were. It turned out that they scattered and no one knew where. . If I was allowed to go to the village I would have gone straight to my benefactor to get guidance from him. But they didn't let me go.
One fine day the commander said to me: Pola, we are traveling to the center. I asked the commander of the center if it was allowed to bring you. We are leaving in the morning. To tell the truth - I was terribly scared. I thought: It is good for me here. Why do I need to change? Who knows what will happen to me? In general, I was afraid of anything new. I came to the center with the commander. There were already many partisans there.
Question: It was in the forest?Answer: Yes. But again, I was the only Jewish woman there. Only later I found out that there were two more young women. But at that time they didn't show them to me and didn't tell me about them.
Here, life began to get harder because I was very scared. There, I was like in a family. There was the battalion, there was the commander, and I knew everyone. I did my best to make them happy. We already sang together. After all, human being is a human being... I was very scared in the center.
Somehow I started to get used to it, and then I found my cousin among the partisans. She's now a doctor at Beilinson [Hospital]. Of course, it is impossible to describe my happiness when I saw her, when we met. She told me that she now cooks only for the patients. There is a Jewish doctor there and we will start our lives again. The joy was great. And only then I started to learn what to do. They got me on track. I started working as a nurse assistant for doctor Dr. Kurtz zl (he died here in Israel). At the beginning, the work was conducted in a very primitive manner. We had nothing. What he could do on his own - help the sick and especially the wounded - he did. The work was hard and we worked almost day and night. It was also necessary to do the laundry, to cook, and also to help.
I remember an interesting episode. They sent liaisons, and they brought medicines from somewhere that it was possible to use them and help. During the day the doctor gave medicine, but at night what could I give? They once brought some sugar from the Germans. I kept it. When the patient was crying - I ground a little sugar with a stick or a stone - gave it to him, and he said: it's so good! (after all it is also a bit psychological). One morning the doctor came to visit and asked the patient: how do you feel? The patient answered: excellent doctor, Pola's medicines are always sweet, your medicines are so bitter!
Question: It was kind of a hospital there?Answer: Yes, it was in bunkers in the forest. In that camp I saw how it was possible to live in a camp in the forest for years, not just months. Wherever the partisans went they dug an excavation about 5 x 10 meters. They filled the walls with wood, placed a sloping roof above it, placed soil on the roof, and above the soil they laid a camouflage of weeds, leaves and trees. Inside was also a hospital.
Question: What was the name of the place you were at?Answer: Ozirza Forests, it was near Pinsk, in the Pinsk marshes. At first everything was primitive and everything was done to pass the time. Every few days a company would go out to work. What does work mean? There was a morning roll call. When there were only a few of us we were asked: who wants to go out today? Then the commander chose who to send. If I'm not mistaken, at that time there were about 1000 people.
Question: All of them Russians?Answer: Who were the partisans in our unit? Some were men who sold their country to the Germans. Whole companies moved from the Red Army to the Germans. But, as soon as they saw that the Germans were taking them to labor camps, they began to flee and settled with gentiles in the villages. Then they started to organize as partisans. Among them were Georgians, Tatars, Russians, and Ukrainians - from all the nations of the Soviet Union.
Question: There were also women?Answer: Then, when I was there, there were no women except for that Jewish woman. Later, they brought a radio operator, a Ukrainian woman from among the Ukrainians, who lived in the city and wanted to help the partisan. There was a woman whose son was murdered, she was a Ukrainian gentile, and I was with my cousin Raya Brat.
A group of no less than twenty-eight people organized. The commander was in charge and they first left to kill collaborators. And more: it was necessary to find a contact. They took someone from one of these villages, who was already on the partisans' side, and sent him to confirm
and notify when trains pass, when the Germans pass, in order to plan the places and determine the time and place for blowing up the trains. From where did we take the first explosive? The Germans threw bombs into the forests since they learned that partisans were organizing. Some of these bombs didn't explode. One partisan dismantled 56 bombs and was hit by the 57 bomb. All his limbs were torn. He died next to me. His name was Danilchenko. He died at night in my arms and said to me, Pola, revenge!
Then, they started to produce explosives at home.
By mid-1943 we already made contact with Moscow. We would go to the place of contact to bring news from Moscow and deliver news from us to Moscow.
There were many partisan companies nearby. We belonged to Czarny.
A number of otriads [partisan units] belonged to Czarny. We later learned that the Fyodorovichim were also nearby.
They already parachuted to us explosives and some medicine, which was as important as explosives. I participated three times in such a walk to the place of contact. Of course, on the way we entered into battle - on the one side with [gangs] of Ukrainian Bolbobtsim and on the other side with the Germans. Once we didn't arrive, we lost the most, and returned. The commander fell ill. And we left again to the place of contact and managed to bring explosives. In addition to the nurse's sack I also had to carry a portion of explosive and also a rifle. When I had difficulties they released me from the rifle and gave me a pistol.
These walks were always associated with fear even though we always walked in a group, but we didn't know who was cooperating with us and who against us. I remember one episode. We entered a village to eat. We knocked on the door. Of course, the people were also very scared. They didn't know with whom to go, with the Germans or against them, with the partisans or against them. Out of panic the housewife shouted: Oh, my partisans, my bandits. We took food. First of all we asked if they were collaborators. Sometimes we knew beforehand, and sometimes not, who is cooperating and who is against.
I can say that from the moment I entered the partisans I raised my head. I was free. The very thought that I can take revenge, was a redeeming thought. I was able to help my father. My sister didn't need help because she was in a good place.
Question: You were in contact with them?Answer: Yes. After six months I took a horse and a cart and loaded what was possible. I brought sacks of flour and a little salt which was a precious reality in the war. Since then I was able to help them with some clothes, some help for the gentile, even though he didn't want it. Their lives were easier.
Only once my father broke down, before I joined the partisans. He showed up at my benefactor and told me, Penina, we're going back to Pinsk Ghetto, there are still Jews there. I'm tired, I'm sick of it, the lice are eating me.
My sister came and said: Penina, we must do something, father is in total despair.
Both of us started to cry and we said: father, if we survived until now maybe God will help us. It isn't worth it, if we go to the ghetto - we're finished.
At that moment he recovered from the crisis and said to us in these words: my children, I'll not return to this thought anymore, I hope we'll go through the war, return home, sell the factory, everything we have, and travel to Eretz Yisrael. Until he said, we will travel to Eretz Yisrael, we thought: enough! the crisis is over, he'll live in hope. When he said that we'll travel to Eretz Yisrael I told my sister, and my sister told me, he lost his mind, because to say it in his situation was really crazy. Well, it was his fate and we immigrated to Israel. It wasn't exactly to sell. Everything remained and it is working to this day. But, thank God, we arrived in Israel and that was the end of his dream.
And now, about the Jews in the partisans. At the beginning my father's cousin, named Ben-Zion Maniuk, who graduated the Technion [Israel institute of Technology] was with me. In Israel he was active in the Haganah. He was the only son. His parents cried and were afraid - he must come home, at least for a trip. He received a telegram that his mother was dying and returned to the Diaspora in 1939, before the outbreak of war. He got married and stayed there. We met him in the forest. He was a hero in the Soviet Union. He derailed 16 trains with Germans. I was present in the morning parade when the commander said: only when we contact Moscow they'll send the medal.
Question: He was an engineer?Answer: Yes. He worked on preparing the plans, how to go, where to go. They placed him in a company with two German collaborators from our town. They joined the partisans when they saw that their end is bitter. They placed him in the same company, and since he knew what they were before, they killed him on the way. He was murdered by the Bolbobtsim, the collaborators with the Germans, acquaintances from home.
Since I was in the center, I knew that next to us was another partisan unit called Kruk. It was a Jewish partisan unit, brave Jews, warriors. There were fighters among them who received medals of high excellence.
I said that there were only Jews in this partisan unit. Then some Ukrainians were added to them.
Question: How many?Answer: I cannot know exact number, because then they also didn't deal with numbers, but it was a real Jewish company. The commander was Berel Malinka, he remained alive (not in Israel). Around our unit were camps of families who escaped to the forests. They received food and help from the center, especially from the Jewish group.
Question: They were Jews?Answer: Most of them were Jews. The partisan unit I was in was named after Dyadia Pietia, his name was [Anton] Brinski. There were rumors that he was a Jew. He was sent from Moscow. The commander before him was Anishchenko.
I was in the forest from 14 January 1943 until March 1944.
When we learned of the early victories of the Red Army there was great joy in the forest. We already had a transmitter. We transmitted to Moscow, we received information from Moscow and life towards victory began. When the Red Army got closer we began to talk: what will happen to us? Everyone decided to merge with the Red Army and go to the front. But the commanders said that the women could choose between going to the army and being released. In the forest I greatly suffered from furunculosis. I had an infected and injured leg. I decided to go home maybe I would be able to get rid of it.
I was released on 28 March, 1944. I was given a cart with horses and was taken back to Rafalovka. And now I return to the same subject - the night of terror and the revenge. I entered the town with the carter. The first to walk towards me was Mikhal, damn him, the one who was at our house on the night of terror. I was shocked when I saw him. And he started: Pola, how good that you are back. We knew you remained alive, and now we'll start life again. I wish you success. I was petrified and no longer thought about how to enter the house, I only thought on how to run to the headquarters in case he would run away after seeing me. I entered the house and took things down. I already found half of the family - my father, my sister, my brother and my cousin Meir. They already settled down. The house stood as it was, but there was nothing in it. I told them, I'm running to the headquarters unload the things I brought you.
I came to the headquarters. Luckily for me the headquarters commander was a Jew. His name was Lipkin. Something I didn't know before. In short, I briefly told him the whole story and said to him: if you don't go now with a group to surround his house, tomorrow he'll no longer be here. It seemed that the Jewish commander acted, immediately. He sent a group of fighters and on the same day they put him in prison. I ran back home and told my father what I had done. At first, I couldn't even speak, and father said: maybe it was worth coming back just for that.
We somehow settled in the house. Every day at ten o'clock I appeared at the headquarters. They asked Mikhal what happened, what he has done. When I first came he started: I was a friend of the family, I helped you in the ghetto and how can it be that you say such things about me? You must be wrong, it isn't me. And I insisted: you wanted to kill us, you wanted to rob us, you stole, and on that night you killed Reizel Dichter.
Reizel Dichter was one of the richest people in town. They searched for gold in her house, they probably took everything and in the end they killed her.
I said: do you remember that on Friday night you murdered a young man named Yosef Meniuk, you played with your rifle and shoot him in the knee? Since there was no doctor, and no doctor was brought to help the Jews, he died on Saturday morning. (he was a friend I studied with). Mikhal the hero, the drunk with the arms, was getting smaller day by day. He tasted the lice as I had tasted. The food they brought him was the leftovers at the celebration at the headquarters. He didn't deserve it.
The commander asked me to what extent I would be willing to kill him. I said: the method of killing is not important. The main thing is, that I want to participate in the execution. Then he said: good, if so, we decided to hang him, are you willing to throw the rope at him? I said: with great pleasure, it would be for my mother, for Reisel, for Yoske, for the whole town. On Sunday I talked at the headquarters, on Tuesday the hanging was to take place. On Monday a messenger appeared and said: Pola, I'm very sorry, you cannot participate in his execution. He died a sudden death at night from a hemorrhagic stroke. To tell the truth - I was very sorry. I thought: maybe it would have been worth going through what I went through even for one day of revenge!
We settled in the house. My father was the only Jew who had half of his family.
Jews from all the corners of the world, who searched for their families and didn't find them, gathered in our house. Father gathered them. The house was big.
Father took out salt that he hid while he was in the ghetto. With this salt we were able to live in abundance. For a glass of salt we got butter, bread and clothes, everything. Everyone who came, everyone who knew and didn't know, knew that here lives a family that can provide help. Father handed out half sacks of salt to Jews all the way to Rokitno. One family survived thanks to this salt, because they were able to obtain food for their existence.
About twenty people gathered in our house. We were there from March 1944 to January 1945. All our hopes were to travel, as father prayed and hoped for in the Polesie forests. We're traveling to Israel, no matter how, we'll arrive. The registration of the exchange between Polish citizen and Ukrainian citizens began. It was possible to exchange with those across the Bug River. We traveled to the Lublin side. Of course, Jews were afraid to sign up because the Russians were in our town, and they thought that it might be a trick. Maybe it is not true that this is a real exchange, but when they saw that Simcha Brat registered, all the Jews in town registered. From the town a few survived including the five of us. And indeed, on 1 January, 1945, a special train transferred us across the Bug River with a Russian escort. I remember that the new mayor cried and said to my father: if you didn't register, the Jews would have stayed here, since you are traveling, everyone is traveling.
We crossed the Bug River. Settled in Chelm and from Chelm we searched for a contact with the Bricha [escape movement] that was already organized. It was headed by Antek (Yitzhak) Zuckerman that I knew from the gymnasium in Kovel. It wasn't that easy. It was very secretive because the Russians didn't want it. Of course, we were very scared. Somehow we found the contact to some young men and women. From Chelm we traveled to Warsaw. One clear day I received and note from Antek and from Oskar for a contact in Lublin. In Lublin I found Yosef who worked there (there were always names in the underground).
Since then I started to work for the Bricha. I passed through Poland, Czechia, Hungary, Romania, Austria and Italy. I stayed in Italy from October 1945 until April 1947 and worked for the Bricha the whole time. I stayed longer in Milan. It is a story in itself, very interesting, fascinating. I'm very proud of it. It was worth going through all this.
Question: From what year are you in Israel?Answer: We didn't arrive together. My sister, my brother and my cousin arrived in 1946 in Enzo Sereni.
I stayed with my father. Since he was older he wasn't allowed to travel on Ha'apala [illegal] ships. I stayed to work at the Diaspora Center and received a certificate for father. These were the last certificates the Mandatory Government gave. My father immigrated in June 1946 and I stayed until April 1947.
The testimony was recorded by Miriam Tao.
Editor's note: The testimony, as recorded by Miriam Tao and reregistered at Yad Vashem, was received from the witness, Penina Shavit, for publication in the Yizkor Book for the Jews of Rafalovka, Olizarka, Zoludzk and vicinity. We are publishing the testimony in this book with minor changes.
List of names in the testimony of Penina Shavit née Brat
Chaya née Brestiner - mother, Rachel - sister, Yentel Goldorin - cousin, perished in Rafalovka Ghetto.[Page 207]
Dov Brat - brother, perished in a PWO camp.
Simcha Brat - father, passed away in Israel.
Miriam - sister, in Israel.
Ziskin-Chaim - brother, passed away in Israel.
Raya Brat - the witness' cousin - lives in Switzerland.
Meir Goldorin - in Israel.
Hershel Brezniak - head of the Community Committee of Rafalovka.
Zelig Lesnik - head of the Community Committee and the Judenrat (committed suicide).
The Murik family.
The Meniuk family.
Reitse Pinchuk, her son Arye and he daughter Leah - live in Israel.
Tenenbaum - brother of Mrs. Pinchuk, perished in the ghetto.
Yakov Sarid - principal of the town's school, was a director in the Ministry of Education, passed away in Israel.
Michael Gilboa - teacher, passed away in Israel.
Shnerer - the last principal of Rafalovka's school, perished in the ghetto.
Rosental - music teacher, perished in the ghetto.
Doctor Kurtz - doctor who was active in the partisans.
Ben-Zion Meniuk - cousin of the witness' father, hero of the Soviet Union, murdered.
Berel Malinka - commander of the Jewish partisan company Kruk
Lipkin - A Jewish Soviet officer.Ukrainians
Reizel Dichter - murdered by the Ukrainian criminal, Mikhal.
Yosef Meniuk - murdered by Mikhal.
Yosef Melamed, Antek Zukerman Osker - operatives in Aliyah Bet [clandestine immigration].
Eliezer Shavit - the witness husband.
Chaya, Yakov - her children.
Mikhal - criminal (the witness doesn't remember his surname).List of places in the testimony of Penina Shavit
Boris - family friend (the witness doesn't remember his surname).
Matepei - head of the village of Ostrivsi.
Danialo - a farmer in Ostrivsi who helped the witness' family.
Grissim Dimitrok - helped the witness and her family.
Danilchenko - partisan.
Chornyi - partisan leader.
Brinski - commander of the partisan unit.
Anishchenko - commander of the partisan unit before Brinsky.
Rafalovka - Sarny district, Rovno region
Olizarka - village near Rafalovka
Bug - river.
Zoludzk - town near Rafalovka
Stanitsa Bezvodnaya - a place inside Russia to which the members of Shtundist sect' who helped the Jews, were sent to.
Sukhovolya - a village near Rafalovka.
Valka village near Ozertsi
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