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[Page 242]

How the Jews of Ratno were Murdered

by Shlomo Perlmutter

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Murder of Nachum Reiskis and his Family

Their house was in the market square, next to the house of the Yonovitches. Nachum was about 50 years old, and a painter by trade. He was also a contractor for matzo baking between Purim and Passover. Aside from his business occupations, he served as an intercessor before the Polish authorities to obtain business permits and passports. When the Germans entered the town, he was appointed as a member of the Judenrat. He served on the Judenrat until he was taken by the Germans as a hostage along with seven other Jews of Ratno, when the Jews of Ratno were falsely accused of sabotaging the telephone lines. During the slaughter that was perpetrated after the partisan attack on Ratno and the killing of two German gendarmes on 1 Tammuz, 5702 (1942), his wife and children were murdered by Ukrainian policemen in the district of Reiskis. This is what Shlomo Licht, who was murdered at a later time, told me.

The eight hostages, Nachum included, were freed thanks to the bribes paid out by the Judenrat. From that time, he stopped working in the Judenrat and went out to work in his trade as a painter in the villages. On the final day of slaughter (August 26, 1942) Nachum and his son Yehudale tarried in the village of Zabrody. His oldest son Leizer–Ber was hauled to Prochod, and exited the common grave alive. After some wandering around, he found his father and younger brother. They hid in the forests for about a month, but when the news that the Germans set up a professional cooperative (Artel) in Ratno reached him, he returned to Ratno, leaving his son in a village next to Luchichi. When he arrived in Ratno, his “friend” Tomas Chochovich, who served as the Ukrainian mayor of the town, recognized him. He was imprisoned and taken out to be murdered by the Ukrainian policemen of the Cheplik division. When the Germans entered, his oldest son, about 16 years old, was sent by the Judenrat to work in a German equipment warehouse. He succeeded in stealing a gun from there, and hid it under the foundations of Yonovitch' house, which was turned into the local “Masloforom” (center for dairy products). Boris, the son of the Ukrainian secretary Fedya Lanterovich, later found the gun.

On the day of the liquidation of Jewish Ratno (13 Elul, 5702 / 1942), he hid in the attic of their house, but the Ukrainian policemen found him and brought him to the gathering area (Ramiza) in the fire station. They ordered him, and everyone else, to get undressed. Then they brought him by covered automobile to Prochod. Leibel Grabov of the Judenrat was also brought with him. According to Leizer–Ber, he was the only one whose spirit did not fall. He encouraged all the Jews sitting in the automobile, telling them, “The Jews who survive will avenge our blood!” Leizer–Ber succeeded in tearing the sheets that covered the automobile in which they were being transported, and sneaked out, but the car that was driving behind them

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stopped, and a Ukrainian policeman named Kuzmitz came out, captured him, and brought him into his car. He was hauled to the dunes of Prochod, where there were already pits dug to gather the victims. He was ordered to run to the edge of these pits. Leizer–Ber told me, “I heard explosions, shots, shouts, and groans. Suddenly I became hot and felt a wetness. I opened my eyes and saw hands, feet, heads and a great deal of blood. I opened my eyes and recognized the blasted head of Leibel Grabov. I escaped in the direction of the grove and hid until it got dark. Then I went to Zabrody, where I found my father and brother.”

Leizer–Ber wandered through villages and forests for several months. One night, he arrived at the home of one of the farmers, a friend of his father, in the village of Luchichi, to ask for several belongings of the family that were given to him to guard temporarily. The farmer promised to prepare the belongings and asked him to return on Sunday. When he returned along with Moti Mogilenski at the set time, he ran into Ukrainian policemen who were invited by the farmer. The two lads tried to escape, but the policemen opened fire on them. Leizer–Ber was injured and fell, but Moti Mogilenski, as I later discovered, returned several days later and avenged the blood of his friend by setting the house, stable and barn of the farmer on fire. The fate of his younger brother Yehudale is described in another article in this book.

The Kotzker family

I recall my first teacher, the good Noach Kotzker, from my early childhood. I would frequently visit their house. Chayale, the daughter of the teacher, was my friend. I was in the same class as she was. I recall very well their house, with three clean rooms and a kitchen, which also stood out in its cleanliness. In the eyes of my spirit, I see my teacher's wife, Tzvia, sitting in a large room and knitting, with my friend Chayale playing or looking into a book. She had calligraphic handwriting, which I can still recognize today from amongst thousands of manuscripts. Her grandmother Necha was busy with cooking and baking in the kitchen.

My teacher Noach was short in stature, goodhearted, and very diligent. Almost all of the youths of Ratno were students of this man, and all of them felt appreciation to him.

On August 27, 1942, the day after the beginning of the large slaughter, when their neighbor Hela Peikovich and Korsevich's wife went to search out the Kotzker's house, they found the owners of the house hiding in the cellar of their house. All their pleas were to no avail, and they were turned over to the Ukrainian police. Feigele Foiler, a native of the village of Krymne near Ratno, who worked for the Germans until the final liquidation of the Jews from Ratno, told me about the final moments of the Kotzker family. “Chayale was very hungry, and begged me to give her something to eat before she died. I tried to save her life, and pleaded before the Gestapo chief, but he did not give in. Chayale told me how she was exposed by the neighbors.”

She, her parents, and their eldest son were hauled to Prochod the next day. The

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younger brother Yosele was together with me in the Byten work camp next to Holoby. He was murdered on September 3 in the town of Mielnica along with all the forced laborers of Ratno.

The Honik Family

The head of the family, Zecharia, and his wife Yocha (Yocheved) died before the war. Their sons Yisrael and Moshe immigrated to Argentina. The rest of the family, Berl, Feichia, her husband and their children Feiga, Michael and Zalman were murdered.

Berl was an active member of Hechalutz Hatzair. He was a refined, and goodhearted lad. After the death of the father, he undertook the yoke of livelihood. He was murdered along with his brother–in–law Shimshon Weisbord of Turisk on 1 Tammuz next to Rycz–Sponczyk.

Feichia, the wife of the aforementioned Shimshon, was murdered in Prochod along with her children, three–year–old Sheikale and year–and–a–half old Yisraelik. Their sister Feiga was murdered along with them.

Zalman, a 16 –year–old lad, was together with me in the Byten camp. He escaped from there to the forests of Skulyn under a volley of bullets. From Zelig Langer, who also succeeded in escaping from the labor camp, I found out that Zalman was murdered in the city of Neschiz.

Michael, 19 years old, escaped to the forests of Smolna on the day of the slaughter, where I met him when I arrived there after I escaped from the aforementioned camp in the autumn of 1942. He was a very faithful friend, and instilled in us hope for the future. I wandered together with him for many nights in order to search for partisans, but it was for naught. When we were accompanying Mindel Ides, the wife of his brother Moshe who was with us, in the district of Melnyky–Richytski, the Ukrainian policeman Piven opened fire at us from a distance of 30 meters. We began to run and we scattered in every direction, and we met again later that day in the forests of Komarove. We slept in the barn of Pavel the lame of Nisniscki. From there, we set out for the forests of Smolna, which were familiar to us. We intended to set up caves there so we could hide when the heavy snows began. However, the winter came early that year, and the snow covered the entrances we had prepared. We crouched down next to a bonfire, for we were afraid of moving lest our tracks be found. We remained without food. A heavy snowstorm occurred one night, and we were covered with snow to a great height. Michael did not lose his composure. He shook himself out of the snow, gathered branches, and lit a bonfire once again. Having no choice, we decided to exit the cave and to connect with the families of Yankel Steingarten and Itza Shapira, who worked in Smolna at that time with the forester Buchhalt with a German permit. The forester promised to obtain a permit for us to join the Artel in Ratno. Sheva Steingarten and Pearl Shapira (Vernik) fed us warm soup, and provided us with a bit of food. We then returned to our hiding place in the forest. Two days later, we received notice that the forester had obtained the required permit for us, and we had to decide whether or not to go to the town. Michael and I opposed this, claiming it was better to freeze in the forest than to turn ourselves into the hands of the Germans. However the majority (Wolbish Kagan, Yosel Karsh, Chaim Trajanow, and Motel Leibman) determined that we would go to Ratno. We reached the home of the forester with broken hearts

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and slept for one night on the straw mattresses that the Steingartens had prepared. The next day, six German policemen arrived and took us to Ratno, where we were imprisoned in the police office. It seemed that the entire “endeavor” was a German trick. Three of them had good luck and were freed: Yosel Karsh thanks to the connections of his brother–in–law Sheika Telzon, who was one of the chief pillars of the Artel since he was an expert tailor; Chaim Trajanow since he was a good locksmith; and I, on account of my friend Feigele Foiler who worked for the Gestapo chief and introduced me as her brother.

From the window in the room of the last Jews, to whom I was brought, I saw how Michael, Motele and Wolbish walked along their final journey with raised hands. They were murdered in the small, private church next to the “Ramiza” and buried in the pits next to Cheplik.

The Family of David–Aharon Shapira

Despite his age, for he was about 70, David–Aharon was strong and full of energy. He owned a tavern during the interwar period and was considered to be one of the wealthy people of the city, even though his way of life and mannerisms were not exceptional. He and his wife Chava had four sons: Motel, Nota, Niska, and Itza, and one daughter Riva. David–Aharon was appointed as the chairman of the Judenrat when the Germans entered Ratno. He responded to the demands of the Germans and Ukrainians with the assumption that every passing day shortens the suffering and brings the end nearer. When the German gendarmes accused the Jews of the town of sabotaging the telephone wires, and demanded hostages until the identity of the saboteurs was established, David–Aharon told them that he would under no circumstances provide hostages. The Germans beat him, but David–Aharon was not broken. He continued to protect and represent the Jews of the town until the day of slaughter, August 26, 1942.

Feivel Langer told me about his final moments when I met him in the forests of Smolna.

“On August 26, 1942, David–Aharon left his secret cellar and went to the Judenrat office as was his usual custom. A Ukrainian nationalist youth from the village of Richytsya, Omtako Silchuk, recognized him, stopped him, pushed him into one of the alleyways and told him that he would permit him to escape the city if he told him the location of the hiding place where he hid his gold and silver. David–Aharon claimed that he had already given over everything he had to the Germans. Omtako did not believe him, beat him with the butt of his gun, pushed him to the ground, and trampled him with his feet. The Germans later brought him to the gathering area in Ramiza. The Ukrainian policemen also demanded that he turn over his treasures, but David–Aharon told them that his silver and gold would go down to the grave with him… Before he ascended into the death car, the Ukrainian police chief Danilevich approached him and whispered something in his ear. David–Aharon gathered his last strength, extended his third finger, stuck it in Danilevich's mouth, and shouted, ‘Only this you will get from me.’ He was among the first to be murdered on Prochod Hill.”

Hirsch–Leib Janowicz, who was together with me in the partisan camp, told me about the final moments of Niska Shapira (David–Aharon's son)

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and his son Nachman:

“They hid in the forests between Luchichi and Zabrody. One day, a farmer from the nearby “Kotor” arrived and warned us that the Germans and policemen had arrived in the village of Luchichi, with the aim of murdering Jews. He advised us to go to a different town, for they knew of our presence in the area. He began to prepare to leave, but Niska broke out in hysterical weeping and shouted, 'We have nowhere to go!” He took his young son Nachman and disappeared along with him into a thick grove. They both swallowed poison, and then left the grove and sat down next to us. Niska began to talk, saying that his life would end shortly. He wished us well and asked that if any of us survived, we should perform the kindness of providing them a Jewish burial. They faded before us like Sabbath candles. The child shouted, 'My throat is burning, bring me water!' Then he fell asleep on his father's lap. The poison took effect, and both of them expired.”

The rest of the family of D.A. Shapira also met their deaths in various manners.

The Droog Family

This family was one of the families to whom all the Jews of Ratno felt appreciation, especially due to their sons and daughters who were beloved by all. The father Avraham owned a grocery store and beer hall. His wife Reizel was a proper housewife. Their house was close to the Kowel–Brisk Road[1]. Their son Moshe completed his studies in the gymnasium in Kowel, and was the head of the Hashomer Hatzair chapter. He made aliya to the Land of Israel. The second son completed elementary school and was 15 years old when the war broke out. Their daughter Pnina was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair. She made aliya to the Land of Israel and lives on a kibbutz. The second daughter Amalia graduated from the Teachers Seminary in Vilna and was a teacher at the Tarbut School in Ratno. The third daughter, Golda, was the head of the Hashomer Hatzair chapter. The fourth daughter, Devora, graduated from the Teachers Seminary. The entire family perished. Henech, 15 years old, hid together with his father in an apple field next to the brick kiln. One of the Ukrainians, Kutik, exposed them and turned them in to the Germans. Amalia, Devora, and the mother Reizel perished in Prochod. Golda and her husband Shlomo Karlin succeeded in escaping, but the mayor of the village of Konysche, in whose house they stayed for a few weeks and for whom they knitted sweaters and socks, turned them in and hauled them to Ratno in chains. 75 other Jews who were captured in the villages and forests were taken out together with them to be murdered in Rycz–Sponczyk.

The Szpetel Family

All the members of the Szpetel family in Ratno and Prochod, numbering 20 souls, succeeded in escaping to the forest on the day of the great slaughter. The manner in which this large family managed to sustain itself in the forest is beyond belief. My friend David Gleizer, whom I met in the forests of Smolna, brought me to them through paths

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that had never previously been trodden by a human foot. These paths went through groves in the forest and patches of quicksand. We crawled most of the way to avoid being spotted. We found the family behind a thicket of willows. The entire family, including elders, women, and children, sat next to the extinguished bonfire. Nachum took out unpeeled, cooked potatoes from a large tin pot and distributed them to the family, and Elkana (Kuna) distributed thin slices of bread to everyone. The children also received a bit of milk. They invited us to dine with them as well.

After it got dark, all the men went out to perform various tasks. Nachum's sons Eliezer and Alter went to their native town of Prochod to fetch bread. The teacher Karlin and David went to the village of Hirnyky to fetch potatoes. Kuna, Magolczia, Chava and Bracha went to gather wood in the forest of Kniazna next to the bog. Nachum's wife and elderly mother remained with the children. Everyone returned before dawn having successfully performed their tasks. They lit a fire, and the smoke blended with the pre–dawn clouds that covered the large marshy area around. The men recited the Shacharit prayer, and then the entire family ate around the bonfire. Throughout the day, they ate some of the red–sour seeds (zurchlins) that grew abundantly in the area. The men dozed or recited verses of Psalms responsively, and the women tended to their children and knitted socks or sweaters, which they used to exchange for food in the villages. The family had a second meal toward evening, and then the men went out to perform their tasks once again.

That is how the Szpetels lived for many weeks in the bog. When the autumn came and the entire area turned into one big pond, they left the bog and moved to the pine forests of Kniazna. Their situation worsened, especially after the farmers locked the doors of their houses in their faces and did not want to provide them with food. Rumors spread at that time that the Germans were permitting the Jews to return to the villages. This was of course a false rumor spread by the Germans so that they could hunt the Jews who had managed to escape. The Szpetel family then divided into two. One part continued to hide, and the other part exposed itself. Nachum, Elkana, and Alter returned to Prochod to operate their weaving machines, whereas the majority of the family continued to hide in the barns of farmers who were considered to be friends. The teacher Karlin and Golda moved to the village of Konysche where they knitted sweaters and socks for the family of the mayor, Tokarsky. On December 15, Ukrainian and German police spread through the villages of the area. The members of the Szpetel family escaped, but some of them were captured by farmers and turned in to the Germans. Nachum's younger daughter Bracha, Magolczia's husband Chuna and their young child, and Nachum's elderly mother were murdered. Kuna Szpetel and his family escaped to the village of Hirnyky, and found a temporary hiding place with their former maid Yevka, but she later turned them in. I was a witness when they were taken out to be murdered. I was living then in the house of Oleksei Pinkovich near Cheplik, and I saw a group of Ukrainian policemen headed by Vanka Lokianioch and a German known as Czechi (perhaps due to his place of origin) bringing

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the family to the pits. Davidl was the first to be shot by Vanka. He fell next to the pit. Then they shot his father and Heniale. Finally they shot the mother Ethel and her young child Binyamin. Ethel wailed, shouted and cursed before she was shot. Henia kissed her mother before her death. The police pushed the bodies into the pits and left without covering them. They left them lying one atop the other. Magolczia and her daughter were the only survivors of the Szpetel family. They immigrated to Canada at the end of the war.

“Friend of the Family” – Murdered

Before the war, Avraham Hochman owned an iron shop and was considered to be a well–to–do man. When the Soviets entered Ratno in 1939, his shop was confiscated and turned into a government store. His wife, Esther–Leah the daughter of Liber Karsh, was a good, quiet, housewife. Their children Chaya and Yaakov studied in the Tarbut School. At the end of August 1942, when the Germans began to liquidate the Jews of Ratno, all the members of the Hochman family were located in a secret hiding place that they had prepared beneath the floor of their house. They were exposed by Ukrainian policemen and hauled to the valley of murder in Prochod along with Maraida Liberman, the good friend of their daughter Chaya who was also in the hiding place. Avraham's son Yaakov (Yankele) was ten years old at the time, and his father “set him up” to work as a shepherd with his friend the farmer Alexander “the American” (George) in the village of Luchichi. When Yankele found out about the slaughter of the Jews of Ratno including his family, he began to consult with his friends who were also working as shepherds (Betzalik Mogilenski, Yehuda Reiskis, Sheikele and Motele Perlmutter, Yoshka Ginzburg, and Yisraelik Zesak). They understood that they could no longer continue working as shepherds, so they escaped to the surrounding forests. They wandered from place to place for several months, but decided to return to Ratno out of fear of the approaching winter. A few Jews remained in Ratno in the service of the Germans. Gitel Karsh and her daughters Chana and Golda adopted young Yankele and took him into their home. In February 1943, when the Jews of Ratno, including Gitel Karsh and her daughters were murdered, Yankele succeeded in escaping. He found a hiding place in the barns in the district of Koznitz. There, he met Moshe Chaim Fuchs, who was also hiding in some barn.

I met both of them by chance in the winter of 1942, in the barn of Michalko Chawowich. Our meeting was short and terse. Yankele was forced to separate from Moshe Chaim Fuchs. He hid for a brief time with Ulka Seshko, across from the “Kliatkes.” I found out that Yankel returned again to the home of Alexander “the American” in the village of Luchichi. One night, this “friend” whom Yanekele's father trusted greatly and even gave over some of his property, murdered Yankele while he was sleeping in his barn.

Translator's Footnote

  1. Also known as Kovel–Brest Road.Return


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How the Jews of Ratno were Murdered

by Shlomo Perlmutter

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The following words are selections from articles that I wrote under very difficult conditions during the years 1943–1944, when I served with the partisans of General Feodorov of Cernigov[1]. I finished some of them a year later when I was in Moscow. In these articles, I attempt to describe the murder of the Jews of Ratno as I saw and heard, without any cover–up. In accordance with the recommendation of the chairman of the Jewish anti–fascist committee, Shlomo Michaels, these articles were scheduled to be published in a special booklet published by Emes, with the title, 'The Destruction of Ratno, a Jewish City in Volhyn – The Testimony of a Young Partisan.” However, they were edited and modified beyond recognition by the editors of Emes. For example, they erased the word “Ukrainians” from any place that described the murder of Jews by Ukrainians, replacing it with “Germans” or “Nazis.” On the other hand, in places where I described the help offered by several Ukrainians, the matter was exaggerated beyond all proportion, to the point that it gave the impression that we survived only due to the generosity and goodwill of the Ukrainians… The word “Jewish” was also removed from the title, which then became “The Destruction of Ratno – A City in Volhyn.” I expressed my opposition to these “emendations” to the editor L. Strongin[2]. He attempted to placate me, but my colleague, the well–known Jewish writer, “Der Nister”[3], advised me to retract my submission. He expressed his opinion that it would be better for these things to not be published at all, given these changes and omissions. In the meantime, I left Moscow with the pages of the first draft in my hands. I was later informed that the booklet had not been published. A portion of the original articles about the murder of the Jews of Ratno reached me in a wondrous manner, as well as pages from a diary that I had written at that time (those pages were published in booklets 33 and 34 of Yalkut Morsehet under the title “Chapters of Moscow”).

Translator's Footnote

  1. See http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Fedorov,+Aleksei+FedorovichReturn
  2. Leib Strongin was a Jewish publisher in the Soviet Union. See http://www.jta.org/1968/03/07/archive/leib–strongin–veteran–soviet–jewish–publisher–dead–in–moscowReturn
  3. Literally, “The Hidden One”. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_NisterReturn


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Ratno

by Zeev Grabov

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Ratno, my hometown,
I see you
On sleepless nights
Filled with nightmares:
Two or three streets,
The market, two bridges,
And a river surrounding you as a belt,
Two cemeteries,
A sea of tears and agony,
Seven synagogues,
Thousands of supplications and prayers,
And youth pining for Zion.

I wander among your ruins,
All the days of my life,
Wandering about on the way to Cheplik,
Rycz–Sponczyk, and the Prochod hill.
I gather the dust of your feet,
From your final journey,
And carry it on my shoulders
As a monument.
I gather every drop of your holy blood,
That rages within me and does not let up,
I gather up your final screams
That were cut off as a curse,
And I do not know upon whom to place them,
On man or on G–d.


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Two out of 130

by Shlomo Perlmutter

Translated by Jerrold Landau

At the beginning of 1942, the Judenrat was commanded to provide Jews to the German building company “Johannes Jezrich–Shreltonburg–Berlin.” Among other things, this company was involved in the expansion and repair of the Brisk–Kowel Road in the area of the village of Smolna. The company office was located in the house of Liber Karsh. It was fenced with barbed wire, and surrounded by guard towers manned by Ukrainian policemen.

In accordance with this edict, tens of youths presented themselves to the offices of this company every morning. They were taken to the Smolna area on platforms attached to large tractors. The only compensation given to the workers was work permits issued by the arbeits–amt (Work Office) in Kowel, stating that they were workers in the service of the German Army, and they are not to be employed in any other work. The work overseers and foremen were veteran Germans who wore red bands with black swastikas on their sleeves.

When the repair work undertaken by the company in the region of Ratno concluded in the spring of that year, it moved its operations to the section of road between Kowel and Luck, but some of its offices still remained in Ratno. A fenced in camp with wooden bunkers was set up near the road in the Holoby area next to the town of Byten. 130 Jews of Ratno were housed there. These Jews were promised that they could visit their families in Ratno frequently, but the promise was not kept. Several young people, including me, were permitted to travel to Ratno to fetch provisions only once.

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Our work and living conditions in the camp were too hard to bear. Over and above everything, our connection with home was severed. We felt like prisoners and slaves. Tens of Ukrainian policemen supervised our work. Our food consisted of coarse bread and water. We were able to escape despite the supervision of the Ukrainians. The only thing preventing us from doing so was our concern that our families might be harmed in the wake of an escape. The Germans warned us several times what would happen if we attempted to escape from the camp.

News of mass murder of the Jews of Kowel and its region began to reach us in August of that year. The tension in the camp increased, and we even felt that the Germans were behaving in a stricter manner toward us, beating us for any small transgression. We were afraid of any whisper and rustling leaf. We were especially afraid when the Germans found out one day that five workers had escaped from the work camp.

The “Schachmeister” Pinka threated that if the missing people did not present themselves within 24 hours, we would all be taken out to be killed. We did not know what to do, and waited for the worst to happen. That night, the escapees returned to the camp. They were convinced that they had no choice other to return, due to concerns for the lives of the many Jews in Ratno and in the camp.

The next morning when the customary siren sounded, we once again all paced to work in rows, but we could not help but notice that the number of Ukrainian policemen accompanying us had grown considerably. A roll call was taken next to a grove at the side of the road, and the “Schachmeister” Pinka ordered those who had escaped the day before to march a few steps forward. We had the feeling that they would shoot them first, and then shoot all the rest of the camp workers. One of those who had escaped the day before, Yisrael Wyslowa, escaped to the grove and fled once again. The rest were ordered to lie on the ground, and the Ukrainian policemen administered 30 lashes to each one. My friend Alik Blostein–Kotler was among those who were whipped. I did not believe that he would be able to stand up again on his feet after the blows that he suffered, but to the surprise of everyone, he recovered, stood on his feet, and continued to work on the road like

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the rest of us.

That night, the night of September 2, several youths escaped through a breach in the fence in order to fetch a bit of food from the surrounding villages, as they used to do all the time. Zalman Honik, the aforementioned Alik, and the writer of these lines were among the escapees. One our way back to the camp with the several loaves of bread that we succeeded in obtaining, Alik recommended that we escape to one of the forests of the area and not return to the camp. Zalman and I opposed this. The three of us returned to the camp. The usual work siren was not heard the next day. The German supervisors arrived at the camp, accompanied by tens of policemen. It was clear that something was about to happen. Someone called out in our bunk that we should use our work implements to break through the police chain, for our fate was sealed and we had nothing to lose. However, others quickly claimed that we should not do so, but rather wait for the work to start up again. As we were still deliberating about what to do, we heard a volley of shots. My friend Alik jumped out the window, and ran behind the camp gate where there were many Ukrainian policemen stationed, who were astonished by the brazenness of this youth and began to aim their weapons at him. We as well, the camp inmates, stood open mouthed and watched with fright as this youth forged a path between the policemen, ran and fell on occasion, without the bullets hitting him. At that moment I also made the decision to escape, come what may. I told this to my father who was standing next to me. He hugged me and said, “Shlomole, let us stick together, and die embracing each other.” Some strong force pulled me away from him. I jumped out the open window and decided as well to run through the open gate while the guns were firing from all sides. I escaped through the gate and ran to the road. I knew that everything was lost, and it made no difference in what manner I would be killed. In a wondrous manner, I managed to reach the grove. That day, September 3, 1942, all the Jews who worked in the camp, including my father, were brought to the town of Mielnica by the Ukrainians and taken out to be murdered along with the Jews of that town.

After some time, I met Zelik Langer in the forests. He had succeeded in escaping

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from Mielnica. I heard from him that Zalman Honik and Isser Rozenbaum had also escaped from the camp, following us, and succeeded in reaching the forest. However, for some reason, they decided to go to the town of Neschiz, where they met their deaths. Zelig also told me about the final moments of the Jews of Ratno, who were murdered in Mielnica (he himself perished some time later). The two survivors of the Byten camp are Alik Blostein–Kotler, who today lives in Canada, and the author of this article.


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After Forty Years
– A Public Dialogue Among Holocaust Survivors

by Shlomo Perlmutter

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Editor: I did not want at this meeting to repeat matters and topics that have already been included in the book published in Yiddish in Argentina, nor topics that you have written for the book that is to be published in Hebrew. Nevertheless, I find it appropriate that we take advantage of this meeting to give clear answers to the questions that your children and grandchildren who read the book might pose. They will want to receive the most exacting response possible regarding anything that they read here and there. I assume that the many years that have passed since that time have caused many issues and details to be forgotten. It is also possible that you want to bring many details down to the grave. Therefore, I will not use this occasion to collect a comprehensive or exacting testimony about side matters. But I do request that you express your opinion on three topics, which I will present one by one.

a) The question that is asked incessantly, that particularly interests those who were not there, and that appears endlessly in all the books of martyrology: Why was there no attempt at resistance, of self–defense, and on standing up for one's life in Ratno? This begins from the murder of the thirty and continues until the final phase of the murder of the remnants of the Jews in the town. Nobody stood up to take revenge. Why did something such as what took place in Lachwa (Pulsia) or other places take place in Ratno? There were Zionist pioneering youth movements in Ratno, such as Hechalutz and Beitar. Where were the leaders of these movements? Did they all go down like sheep to the slaughter? You will certainly forgive me for raising this matter. Perhaps I do not even have permission to raise it, for I myself was not there. However, I imagine that your children and grandchildren will pose this question. They will also want to know what role the Judenrat played in the town. There are various theories regarding this topic in the material that has reached me. In contrast to the majority who believe that the Judenrat worked to the best of its ability, and particularly praise the Judenrat head David–Aharon Shapira; there are those who state that after the murder of the thirty, or perhaps after all of the bachelors were commanded to go to forced labor, they pelted his house with stones. I think that despite the fact that we now are sitting in the home of the daughter–in–law of D. A. Shapira, the living spirit of the Judenrat, it should not bother us to discuss these matters in her presence. One more thing: I came across several manuscripts that state that all of the communal leaders during the Holocaust era were religious men, who regarded what was happening as the “Finger of G–d,” and therefore unanimously upheld the concept of: Not attempting, G–d forbid, to take revenge; fulfilling the will of the Germans and acceding to all their demands. Was this indeed the case?

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Shlomo Perlmutter: After 40 years, and with the lack of many details upon which to base judgment, it is indeed difficult to reach a proper and objective conclusion regarding the role that the members of the Judenrat played. However, it seems to me that there is no basis for a negative assessment of the role that Jews such as D. A. Shapira, David Steingarten, Asherl Leker, Nachum Reiskis, Mendel Blatt (the representative of the tradesmen) and others played in that era. Within their limited confines of action, they attempted to avert the numerous harsh decrees that fell upon the Jews of Ratno each day. Let us consider: what could they do? What would we have done had we been in their place? True, most of them were religious men, and their philosophy was “we must survive this”. Some of them recalled the behavior of the Germans toward the Jews during the First World War, and could not image that members of that nation would be able to murder and annihilate Jews. We must not forget that the Jews of Ratno were cut off from the world. The means of communication that exist today did not exist then. The Jews did not know what was taking place even in nearby Brisk and Kowel. The Jewish communal activists, to the best of my memory and judgment, were primarily concerned about the general rather than the individual, even though it is possible that there were some exceptions. Throughout all the time of my wandering, the personage of D. A. Shapira stands out as an image of a national leader in the form of Don Isaac Abravanel[1], who marched in front of the camp and spoke in the name of the entire community. He did not display any fear, and never attempted to save his own life. He appeared before the murderers and asked for their requests, knowing that he had no choice other than to fulfil their requests to the extent possible, otherwise things would be even worse.

It is true that the Judenrat did not call for a revolt. In their way of thinking, every additional day of life brought the end and the redemption nearer. They sanctified life. Even when they produced a list of people to send to the labor camp in Kowel, they were certain that this was the lesser evil. They did not think that these people were sentenced to death. I am certain that had they thought such, they would not have provided the list. They did not call for revolt, for they knew that there was no possibility of such a revolt under the conditions of Ratno, and any failed attempt would result in a great many victims.

If I had to classify or define the Judenrat of Ratno, I would state that they were among the best, and they cannot be blamed for what took place.

Shlomo Vernik: I agree with the words of Shlomo (Pearl Vernik: this is also my opinion and the opinion of others who recall these matters well). We related with trust to those people who fulfilled their tasks on the Judenrat, which was in reality a continuation of the Jewish communal council. I did not know that they stoned his house. I was in the Zabolottya Labor Camp. The trains transporting people to extermination passed before our eyes. We knew that they were being transported to extermination. I recall that on one Sunday morning, I was in Ratno, and I saw from the porch of my house Reb David–Aharon Shapira standing with

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Zecharia Honik, Fishel Levant, and others. I went to them and asked: For what and for how long are you waiting? The Germans are slaughtering and murdering Jews throughout the area (this was at the beginning of 1942). Reb David–Aharon answered me: “Shegetz[2] what do you want, to hasten our deaths? And if we escape – where will we take the young children, the women, and the elderly?” That was the mindset of those days. We cannot ignore the fact that the chief activists were pious Jews who believed in Divine providence. My father never hid from the Germans. I once asked him, “Father, why do you not seek out some hiding place?” He answered me simply and tersely, “That which is supposed to happen, that which is decreed from Above – will happen.”

Yaakov Grabov: If the Shapira's house was ever stoned, it would have been done by individuals, the parents of those sent out to labor. I was one of them, and I also know that the Judenrat had no other option other than to send the men. Itzel Karsh, a young man, was the Judenrat member responsible for the shipment of men to work. In addition, we must recall that the Germans poisoned us and put us to sleep in stages. Many have already written about the Nazi strategy of silencing the Jews. One could not stand up against this in the big cities, and certainly not in a city such as Ratno.

The editor asks: Where were the leaders of the youth movements and Hechalutz? Most of them made aliya to the Land. Those that remained had endured the era of Soviet rule that for all intents and purposes liquidated all Zionist activities. It seems that nobody remained in Ratno who would have been capable of calling for or leading a revolt. Do not forget that we had been under the shadow of Soviet occupation for two full years. Their apparatus had a great effect on us.

Yehuda Kagan: There is no basis for the assumption that the Jews went like sheep to slaughter. I and many others escaped to the forest with weapons. I know from my experience that in the Jewish villages surrounding Ratno there was leadership that urged the Jews to escape to the forests and fight. The village Jews placed their trust not only on G–d, but rather primarily on weapons. Even Zalman Kamfer from Ratno, who was responsible for the Jewish National Fund, was with us in the village. Masses of Jews escaped to the forests. Things crumbled in the town, but we must recall that the Ukrainians came to Ratno by the thousands, and they hated the Jews with their guts. I point out once again: In the villages, the Jews stood up for their lives, fought and defended themselves.

Chanan Steingarten: I want to deal with what Shlomo Vernik said about his conversation with Shapira. This was not the whole story. The truth is that many thought, and were even certain, that “this will not happen to us.” Even when news reached us about the slaughter in Kowel and other places, people surmised that there were unique reasons (partisan activity, the murder of some German, etc.) I was very young at that time, but I remember well that we also spoke a great deal about defense, going out to the forests, etc. However, we were too tied to our families, and we were particularly afraid about what the Germans were liable to do when steps were taken toward defense.

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Nobody wanted to take responsibility for what might happen in such a case. It may be that were we to have had experienced and brave leaders at that time, they would have said: In either case we will die – let us escape come what may. However, the fact remains: there were no such leaders, and therefore there was no mass escape to the partisan ranks. Everyone saw themselves as responsible for the public. Only after the large aktion did everyone regard themselves as free to act as they felt appropriate. I remember that we were once sitting with Shlomole on some roof. We had a gun and we practiced with it, but we were afraid of endangering ourselves by using weapons, for the Germans were liable to murder hundreds of Jews if they found out about this. Incidentally, the Ukrainians did not act in this manner when the Germans liquidated the Ukrainian village of Kortelisy on account of partisan activity. The young Ukrainians did not think about their parents and family members. Rather, they took weapons and escaped to the forests, abandoning the elderly and children.

Those who claim now that we went “like sheep to slaughter” fail to take into account all the circumstances of those days. Several years ago, they captured the Jewish athletes in Munich – did they attempt to resist then?[3] They murdered them all one by one. The conclusion is that there are cases where resistance is impossible. It is easy to discuss resistance when you do not stand in front of a gun. (Perlmutter: and what took place in the bus on the coastal road when the Jewish drivers and travelers stood before Fatah members? Was there resistance?[4]) I always think about the incident that took place in Munich. Our best athletes, proud, brave, Israelis, did not attempt any resistance under the conditions that they found themselves at that time. And under what conditions did the Jews of Ratno find themselves? It cannot even be compared. I know very well the feeling of being led to slaughter. They led me to slaughter, and they sent me back along the way (Pearl Vernik: such things happened to me more than once).

Shlomo Perlmutter: I want to support Chanan's words regarding the issue of Jewish leadership. It is true, in Ratno there were no youths of the type that there were in the Warsaw Ghetto, who called for revolt and perpetrated a revolt. It is also true that the Soviet government that preceded the Nazi government removed the potential leadership who would have been able to rise to the occasion during the times of tribulation. However, it seems to me that first and foremost, we must stress the sense of responsibility that the individual felt toward the public. I know of several cases where young Jews held back from carrying out some activity that was liable to bring destruction upon the Jewish public. We felt that we must not do any act that was liable to lead to German sanctions against the entire town. Perhaps this was not the correct decision in the face of a long–lasting slaughter, but this was the feeling that accompanied us during those times.

The following fact shows how far this feeling of responsibility went. A similar thing took place even in the Holoby forced labor camp, where about 130 Ratno natives were imprisoned. I, Zalman Honik, Eliahu Blostein, and others went out

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from the camp on the final night before the slaughter to gather bread from the surrounding villages. We were able to not return to the camp, and some of the people proposed that. However, we imagined what would await the Jews of Ratno in such an event, and our sense of responsibility (we were young lads at the time) led us to refrain from doing so. I recall well how we lay down on sheathes in the field and one person from the group (I am not sure whether it was Zalman Honik or Eli Blostein) proposed that we do not return. However, after a brief discussion, the proposal was rejected by everyone. Even the person who proposed the idea understood that this was a faulty idea, for it could result in a disaster. Only the following day, when they came to liquidate the work camp, and they transported the Jews to nearby Mielnica, and Eli Blostein and I escaped under a volley of bullets, did I begin to feel that I was free of the feeling of responsibility for the Jewish people in general.

The day after the escape, when I returned to the camp and discovered that they had murdered all the Jews of Ratno in Mielnica, I realized that I was free to go (more correctly – to run) anywhere, and I was not subject to mutual responsibility.

Chanan Steingarten: I will add one thing: As is known, my brother Leibel (Aryeh) was among the first 30 to be murdered by the Germans. I know from Yankel Kladnir that he was among those who was transported to the valley of murder, and he was saved, because on the way to a certain death, someone proposed that they attempt to escape, and whomever luck would favor might survive. My brother Leibel rejected the proposal. His reasoning was that this step was liable to lead the Nazis to murder all the Jews of Ratno, Heaven forbid. They marched toward their last breath with this sense of responsibility.

Nachman: Perhaps it is justified that they did not escape during the first days of Nazi occupation, but it is surprising that they also remained in the town and did not escape later, when news of the mass murder of Jews in Kamin–Kashirsk, Kowel, and all neighboring settlements began to arrive.

Shlomo P.: This question points to a lack of understanding of the conditions that pervaded at that time. All the rumors that arrived were unverified, and, as has been stated earlier, we did not believe them. We were cut off completely, and had no communication with the nearby settlements. When we worked on the Kowel–Luck road, and the Ukrainian farmers who passed by told us that they were slaughtering Jews throughout the area – we did not believe their words. The Nazis had succeeded to this extent in putting us to sleep from a psychological perspective. As has already been stated: In all places the Jews thought that this would not happen to them.

They preserved their hope and opened themselves to various delusions even on the threshold of death. The Nazi psychologists developed special theories and techniques, and succeeded.

Nachman: Perhaps we will now try to examine the issue of relations between the Jews of Ratno and their Ukrainian neighbors. When I read the material that I have collected on this topic, I asked myself: The Jews of Ratno had lived for so many years in very close proximity to the Ukrainians. They nurtured business relationships

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and the like. How could it be that all of this did not lessen the great hatred between the Jews and Ukrainians? The description of the behavior of the Ukrainians toward the Jews was frightening. Their level of guilt was no less, perhaps, than that of the Germans. How can we understand this phenomenon? Why were there so few who agreed to give refuge to the Jews? Perhaps the Ukrainians bore a grudge against the Jews. If so, what was the source of this grudge? I was greatly moved by several songs that were written by young lads from Ratno that gave expression to a protest against the business practices of the Jews with respect to the gentiles. Perhaps the behavior of the Germans toward the Jews during the war was some sort of recompense or revenge for them not behaving properly toward them?

Chanan: This is a topic worthy of research. Based on my own experience I can state: if there were still Ukrainians in western Ukraine who still gave refuge or assistance of any sort to the Jews, there was almost no instance of such help to the Jews in the eastern portion of Ukraine which had been under Soviet rule from the time of the 1917 revolution.

Yaakov Grabov: The good Ukrainians who were exceptional only confirm the general rule.

Pearl Karsh: With this it is worthwhile to note that there were numerous exceptions, and I am able to tell about one of them. There was a farmer named Ivan Shtoch in the village of Smorivitchi[5] who brought us food throughout the period of four consecutive months. This farmer's son was a keeper of cows, and his father was concerned that his son might expose us and turn us in to the Germans, or pass judgment on us himself. Therefore, he attempted to keep him far from our hiding place. One night I dreamt that my father–in–law David–Aharon Shapira commanded me to immediately leave the place where we had been under the protection of this Ivan. When I told my husband Itzka about this dream – he mocked my dream and said that if we leave the place, we will never find a Ukrainian who will give us refuge, for no such people exist. I stood my own and acceded to his request to remain there for only one additional day. A day later, we left and went in the direction of Kortelisy where we had an acquaintance named Niko. When he saw us, he crossed himself and said that the Banderovcis(Ukrainian nationalists) were swarming through the village, and that he could not even exchange one word with us. That is how all the Ukrainians acted, even those who were considered friends.

Yaakov Grabov: There was only one primary reason for the enmity of the Ukrainians. They wanted to benefit from our destruction. They had seen Jews who were successful and amassed property. Their desire for the money and property of the Jews overcame them.

Aryeh Wilk: The interesting thing is that it was specifically the Ukrainian intelligentsia, the upper class of the society, that were the worst behaved, and the most murderous toward the Jews.

Chanan Steingarten: Many Jews made the error of hiding their property with

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Ukrainians whom they regarded as friends. When these “friends” discovered the type of treasurers amassed by the Jews, it is no wonder that they coveted that property for themselves, and literally awaited the death of the owners of the property.

Aryeh Wilk: It is hard to believe that the intelligent and educated son of the local priest acted in an evil manner. He murdered Jews without any sense of conscience, whereas one of the locally known prostitutes granted Jews refuge in her house.

Pearl: Kodrinski's son worked with me in the courthouse. However, when the Germans arrived in Ratno, he ignored my existence and turned his head as if he did not recognize me at all. He would not even say hello to me.

Shlomo P.: The question presented here by the editor is one of the questions that has been or will be presented to us by our children or grandchildren. They will not be able to understand how we did not succeed in finding an opening with the Ukrainians, our neighbors for hundreds of years. These relations should have obligated them to come to our assistance during our time of tribulation. This is also the question that is posed in one form or another by the researchers of that era. In various circles of the Ukrainian people, there was a push to prove that many Ukrainians came to our aid, and that their level of collaboration with the Nazis was not that strong. However, the testimony of many survivors, including the survivors of Ratno, points to a different conclusion. There is no doubt that there were Ukrainians who came to our aid, and I myself was witness to such during the time of my wandering, however these were a negligible percentage. Their hatred to the Jews was literally pathological. The Banderovcis, who were at times worse that the Nazis, were very great examples of such. The incident with Kamintzky and Fruma when they found themselves in a unit of Banderovcis and were saved was a rare, isolated incident, and we cannot derive any general principle from it. Pearl also mentioned someone who was good to her in the village of Smorivitchi, and I will also remember positively Michalko Chawowich, whom I did not know before and was known previously as a person who did not like Jews, but nevertheless later displayed very generous traits in extending assistance to my brother and me. Nevertheless, we must stress again and again: these are only individuals. I also surmise that the Ukrainians who were good to us were from among the lowest classes of society, but I suspect we cannot be hasty in reaching such a conclusion. An incident such as that with Maria, the wife of Arjon the water drawer of Ratno, who held four Jews in her house, was unique. Her husband contracted typhus from the Jews that were hidden in the house, and died. Eli Blostein, his brother Itzka, Magolczia Szpetel, Fruma Bergel, Moshe Chaim Fuchs, and I hid in his house. We said to him that when peace came, we would buy him a gold chain, affix a large gold cross to it, the same type that hangs from the neck of a priest, and hang it on his neck. He answered, “I do not need any crosses. I have a wagon but I do not have a horse. When peace comes I will go to Prochod and borrow a horse from my friend there, hitch the horse to the wagon, and place all the Jews of Ratno that I have saved upon it. A meeting will take place in Ratno, and I will stand on the podium and say, 'Here are five Jews whose lives I saved –

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and what did you Meishchines do?'”

I do not believe that the business relationships between the Jews and Ukrainians determined their behavior. They were enticed by the promises made to them by the Germans, by the promise of the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state, by the rewards offered for turning in Jews, etc. In any case, the situation demands further serious research.

Shlomo Vernik: I also want to add that the German threats of fines and severe punishments for anyone caught hiding Jews in their house also caused them to recoil. The Germans gave products to the collaborators that “could not be purchased with gold,” such as tobacco, salt, and vodka, free of all taxes and fees. There was one Jew, named Yosel, in the village of Zabolottya, who gave over all his property to a Ukrainian farmer who hid him in his house. Later, that farmer murdered him and brought his body to the Germans. It was hard for them to resist the strong enticements.

Pearl: A similar incident took place with my brother Aharon, who found a temporary hiding place with our former neighbor, Ivan Chachby. That Ivan later turned him in to the Germans. On the other hand, there were Ukrainians who had no connections with Jews, but when they were able to help, they did so.

Nachman: I suspect that the question that has been presented is still waiting for a fundamental answer. You repeated and stressed that the kind acts of the Ukrainians toward Jews were isolated and rare, but no convincing explanation has been given as to why the situation was such and not otherwise. Was it only the desire for reward that influenced so many of them (and perhaps also their religion)? I am certain that this question does not interfere with the daily regimen and research of the historians, but we have no choice but to state here that we do not know the answer.

{Photo page 256: At the editorial board of “Einikeit” in Moscow (June 1944), with one of the Jews of Moscow.}

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We will now move to the third question, which in my humble opinion is not sufficiently clear in the manuscripts of the Holocaust survivors, or at least in those that have reached me. The question is: How were the Jews who escaped to the various partisan camps and units around Ratno received? I read hair–raising stories about the brutal treatment they received in partisan camps. On the other hand, I read about heartfelt relationships. Are both versions true? Was there no definitive political line, based on directives from on high, that bound the partisan units together?

Yehuda Kagan: From my experience, I know about several partisan units that treated the Jews who came to them with actual cruelty. However, I do not think that this behavior was a result of a political stance that was defined or legislated from on high.

Chanan: Many Jews were murdered by partisans. This is an irrefutable fact.

Yaakov Grabov: This was only at the beginning, when the confusion was great in the camps themselves. My oldest brother David fell in battle with the partisans. As time went on, there was a noticeable change in their relationships with Jews. This is a fact.

Yehuda Kagan: Your brother fell with weapons in his hand. I recall that when I arrived at the partisan ranks, I found Yaakov and David Grabov there. Later, I was informed that they escaped from the unit. Why? Because two Jews from the village of Zalukhiv who had spent some time with the Banderovcis, arrived at their unit. The partisans claimed that this was a sure sign that they were spies, and took them out to be executed. They also interrogated me for a long time with the “Suvorovches”,[6] and this was not one of the most pleasant things at all. Every Jews was a suspect to them at first. In nearby Kamin–Kashirsk, there were young Jews who set up a Jewish partisan unit, for they were afraid of joining the Russian and Ukrainian partisans. I was also advised to join that group. The farmers in the area spread rumors that the Jewish partisans were plundering them. The Suvorovches then came, removed the weapons from the Jewish fighters, took off their boots and clothes, and murdered them.

Y. Grabov: They tied the Jews of Kamin–Kashirsk to trees and killed them.

Sh. Vernik: It is appropriate to note that tens of Jewish fighters from Kamin–Kashirsk succeeded in escaping with weapons.

Y. Kagan: Those Suvorovches had no supervision at all from Moscow, and they acted however they pleased.

Chuma (Sh. Vernik's wife): I myself met Jews from Kamin–Kashirsk who escaped from the “Suvorovche” camp.

Sh. Perlmutter: Everything that was said here regarding the relations of the local partisans

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toward the Jewish fighters is completely true. This also includes the general relationship between the Ukrainian population and the Jews. The relationships with the Jews were completely different in the large units that received direct commands from the partisan headquarters in Moscow. I am referring to the units of generals Kovpak[7] and Fedorov (the Chernigovy and Rovany), but these only arrived in the area in 1943. The Jews of Ratno did not have arms, and therefore were unable to escape with arms. Those who escaped – the number estimated at several hundred – were unarmed. The Jews who escaped from Ratno with weapons were Eliahu Zesak, Hirsch–Leib Janowicz, and later on, Moshe–Chaim Fuchs and I. All joined the partisans.

Y. Grabov: The Jews were always commanded to be careful even in the large, famous partisan units mentioned by Shlomo. Their situation was not the same as that of the rest of the fighters.

Chanan: The Jews of Ratno never had weapons in their homes. This was in contrast to the Ukrainians who always had weapons in their homes. The local partisan units did accept armed Jews into their ranks[8]. Shlomo told me that were the Jews of Ratno to have had weapons, many would have been saved. I agree with this. The proof can be seen in the liquidation of the Jewish fighters of Kamin–Kashirsk. My family and I reached the partisans thanks to our connections with the forester Buchhalt, who served as a link with the partisans.

Sh. Perlmutter: As I recall, there were attempts to liquidate Kruk[9], the commander of the local unit in the district of Manievich, most of whose fighters were Jews, before he reached the district of Fedorov the Chernigovy.

Chanan: In our partisans units, which were composed mainly of prisoners of war and locals, there were partisans who murdered Jews. The captain in charge of us, Adilat, murdered Jews with his own hands, and even removed the gold rings from their hands. Even Jews who arrived from Ratno armed with cannons and guns were not accepted.

Y. Grabov: They would first take all of their weapons.

Pearl: When I arrived at the partisans together with my husband, they called us traitors and cowards. They made us lie on the ground and beat us. Finally, they agreed to accept my husband but not me. This is how things were in the unit that was called “Boyavoy.”

Sh. Perlmutter: I wish to note that at around the time an independent Jewish unit was set up in Kamin–Kashirsk, we, a group of four youths from Ratno, were active. We went around to the forests and villages, offering assistance to escaping Jews. The weapons in our hands were very simple: one gun and and an “otriz” sawed off rifle without a magazine. In one of the areas near Rechitsa, there lived a farmer who was known as a highway robber. It is interesting that it was specifically this robber who gave us a gun in exchange for stolen Jewish property that we promised to give over to him. On one occasion, he even joined with us

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in an attack we made on the village of Prochod, where most of the Jews of Ratno had been killed. Magolczia Szpetel, who lives today in Canada, asked us to return to her some of the property that her father had given over to a farmer who had been considered to be a friend of the family, and was appointed by the Germans as mayor of the village. Magolczia had found a hiding place with Maria, the daughter of Arjon[10] the water drawer, and required this property in order to sustain herself. We succeeded in enticing the village guards, in whose eyes we were partisans. After they showed us the house of the mayor, we entered and took control over all the residents. They gave us a portion of the property of the Szpetel family. We also furnished ourselves with some food, and left without shooting even one bullet. Later, this incident became known throughout the area, and many people who were holding Jewish property began to worry about revenge from our side. The news about Jews armed with weapons roaming about the area spread throughout the area.

We were fortunate, and we found our way to a partisan unit that did not check our origins, and accepted us as we were.

I can tell about my personal experience regarding the relations to Jews in the large partisan units, such as those of the Fedorovs and of “Diadia Petia”[11] on the border between Volhyn and Pulsia. Throughout a certain period, I served in the position of communicator in the Kotovski Otriad [Unit] of Fedorov the Chernigovy. Our unit was composed of Soviet prisoners of war who had escaped, local youths who were supporters of the Soviet Union, as well as a few paratroopers who had parachuted in to us. We were four Jews in this unit: the cook and her daughter, a brave, limping youth who joined us for two weeks as he was fleeing Poland and spoke at all times to the Russians in Polish, and I. We were four Jews among 400 non–Jews. More than once when I was lying on my mattress, I caught snippets of conversation that expressed strong anti–Semitic views. When I warned them about this, they attempted to silence me. On the other hand, Fedorov himself and his staff related to the Jews properly, and even with affection.

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10–11 Tammuz 5701 (July 8–9, 1941): Ukrainian attacks against the Jewish population.
13 Tammuz 5701 (July 11, 1941)[12]: German invasion, murder of the thirty.
1 Tammuz 5702 (June 16, 1942): Murder of 110 Jews next to Rycz–Sponczyk.
13 Elul 5702 (August 26, 1942): Mass murder of Jews in Prochod.
20 Elul 5702 (September 3, 1942): Murder of 130 Jews of Ratno in Mielnica.
7 Tevet 5702 (December 15, 1942): The first liquidation of the “Artel”, 32 murdered.
2 Adar 5702 (February 7, 1943): The second liquidation of the “Artel” on the way to Zhyrychi. Drawing page 260: Star of David, Sabbath candles, Holy Ark)

Translator's Footnote

  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_AbravanelReturn
  2. A derogatory term (often, but not here, used for a disagreeable gentile). Literally “Disgusting one.”Return
  3. This took place in 1972. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munich_massacreReturn
  4. This took place in 1978. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coastal_Road_massacreReturn
  5. Likely Samary–OrikhoviReturn
  6. A follower of Suvorov. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Suvorov . Even though Suvorov lived many years before, his legacy lived on as: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_SuvorovReturn
  7. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydir_KovpakReturn
  8. The original Hebrew says “did not accept,” but I believe the “not” may be in error, as it is not used in proper grammatical context in the original sentence, and does not make sense in the context of the paragraph. I omitted it in the translation.Return
  9. See http://www.infocenters.co.il/gfh/notebook_ext.asp?book=21670&lang=eng&site=gfhReturn
  10. On page 256, Maria is noted as the daughter of Arjon.Return
  11. See the reference to this in “A Child Without a Childhood” in http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/melnitsa/mele047.htmlReturn
  12. The English date had 1942, which is an error. I changed to 1941.Return


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After Forty Years
– A Public Dialogue Among Holocaust Survivors

by Shlomo Perlmutter

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Approximately 40 years after the Holocaust, during the holiday of Chanukah 5743 (1983), Holocaust survivors of Ratno, who now live in Israel, gathered in the home of Pearl Vernik in Rishon LeZion to engage in self–reflection, to bring forth memories, to discuss from their hearts, and to try to find an answer to several questions that they ask themselves and are also asked by others. The initiator of this gathering was Shlomo Perlmutter, who was in charge of collecting material for the Holocaust section of the Book of Ratno. Aside from the survivors of Ratno, Nachman Tamir, the editor of the Book of Ratno, was also invited. He was asked to pose the questions that came to him as a result of studying the material that was presented by the Holocaust survivors. Almost all of the invitees attended the meeting, the exception being several of them who could not attend for various reasons. This was an open discussion that was conducted without any air of formality. All of the participants stressed that they too felt an internal need to get together and engage in an open and honest discussion to free themselves from the pain and oppression that has accompanied them

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for many years. There is no need to introduce the participants, for they were all natives of Ratno, and each of them was very familiar with the stories of the paths of tribulations that each of the participants had endured. However, the chairman, Shlomo Perlmutter, felt the need to introduce the participants of the dialogue with a few words in the presence of the “man from the outside,” the editor of the book, who is not a Ratno native.

The following are the participants of the meeting:

Elchanan (Chanan) Steingarten, who was saved along with his family, with the exception of his oldest brother who was murdered by the German soldiers as they entered Ratno. He later joined the partisans under the command of Fedorov (the Rovany).

Pearl Karsh endured all the tribulations of the war and the Holocaust. Her story is included in detail in the Book of Ratno.

Yaakov Grabov fought in the partisan ranks, and gave over comprehensive testimony to Yad Vashem about what had transpired. He too describes various experiences in the Book of Ratno.

Yehuda Kagan fought in the partisan ranks. He describes all that he endured in the book that he wrote, which will be published in the near future.

Eliahu Liberman studied in a professional school in Brisk before the war broke out. He was later sent to the interior of Russia, and thereby he was saved. He made Aliya to the Land at the end of the war.

Aryeh Wilk was one of the few who succeeded in escaping from Ratno on the first day of “Operation Barbarossa” (the German attack on the Soviet Union). He spent the wartime period in Russia, and made aliya to the Land of Israel at his first opportunity.

Daniel Merril was a soldier in the Polish army at the outbreak of the war.

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After the Polish retreat, he enlisted in the Soviet Army and joined the unit of General Andros, which reached the Middle East in 1943.

Shlomo Vernik was one of those sent from Ratno to forced labor in the village of Zabolottya. He escaped from there. He describes all that he endured in the Book of Ratno.

Eli Zesak was a partisan in the Ninth Battalion of General Fedorov of Chernigov.

Shlomo Perlmutter, whose story and activities are known to the natives of Ratno and were also published in various publications.

Yisrael Chayat could not come to the meeting due to health reasons, but he saw the need to respond through Sh. Perlmutter to the questions presented by the editor of the book. He was saved by a Ukrainian woman, which was a very rare occurrence. In the Book of Ratno, which was printed in Yiddish, several of his articles appear. These articles are included in Hebrew translation in our book.

Ben–Zion Kamintzky also did not participate in the meeting. He sent his story to the editor of the book, where he tells the rare story about how he and his parents were saved because they were in a camp of Banderovches.

Aside from the aforementioned, the following people from Ratno also survived: Avraham and Dvora Berg who went to New York, Eliahu Blostein (Kotler) who escaped form the labor camp and currently lives in Canada, Magolczia Szpetel who is also in Canada, Chaicha and Hirsch–Leib Janowicz who currently live in New York, Eli Berg who lives in Miami, Moshe Chaim Fuchs who died in Argentina, Fruma Bergel of blessed memory, Yankel Kladnir and his sister Reicha of blessed memory.

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Michalko Chawowich was one of the few Ukrainians in the city who provided assistance to Jews from Ratno, including Sh. Perlmutter, the pharmacist Mogilenski, and others. In the bundle of letters in the archives of Yisrael Chayat, we found a letter written by Michalko at the end of 1961. Here is the letter, translated from Russian:

“Dear Yisrael Chayat, I am sending you heartfelt greetings from Ratno, and wish you all the best. I am approaching you at the suggestion of Avraham Berg, for I have been told that you do not live far from Olitzki (Shlomo Perlmutter). I ask that you give him a warm greeting from me, and I would be very grateful if you would send me his address. At the time, I was very disturbed when the news reached me that he had fallen in the War of Independence of Israel. Now, after I found out that this rumor was false, and that he is alive, I am happy and very moved that my efforts to save him were not in vain. I, with the help of G–d, offered help to various people, and therefore I have merited recognition from G–d and people. I ask again, if it is not too hard for you, that you fulfil my request. I wish you happiness and everything good. If Magolczia (Szpetel) lives not far from you, please also give her my regards.”

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The Responses of Yisrael Chayat

As has been stated, Yisrael Chayat, one of the Holocaust survivors, was unable to participate in this public discussion, but he saw the need to give to us his responses to the questions presented. He did this through Sh. Perlmutter.

To the first question: Only someone who was not there could use the expression “like sheep led to slaughter.” Only those who were there are permitted to judge us. In my opinion, the prime factor that prevented us from organizing escapes, revolts, and uprisings was the oppression.

Regarding the matter of the Judenrat, I was there day and night. Its office was with us in the house (with Sh. P.). I saw from up close how it operated, and I have a positive attitude toward it. When the Germans demanded workers to send to labor camps in Kowel, the Judenrat members first sent their own family members. They simply wanted to buy time. In their innocence, they believed that every passing day brings the redemption closer.

To the second question: I have no doubt that the cases where Ukrainians offered help to the Jews were exceptions to the rule, and one cannot deduce the general rule from the exceptions. Katia Ochalik, who hid me in her house for nine months, did this not because she was a Ukrainian, but rather because she was an exceptional human being.

To the third question: When the front approached Ratno, I escaped from the town to the forest, where the partisans attempted to kill me. I described these events in the book. I was saved from their hands by a miracle. This happened on the route from Ratno to Kamin–Kashirsk. There was a Jewish lad, Meir from the village of Datyn, among these partisans. However, it seems that he was unable to give me any assistance.

 

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