In the Woods and Swamps, Pursued Like an Animal
Death is Chasing After Me
I had run away from death, from the lonely, misplaced grave in the woods. I didn't see anything more; nor did I think. I only heard, from behind me, frequent bursts of shooting, and it seemed that the shots were coming first from one side and then from the other side. I kept running, jumping forward, without looking where I was putting down my foot. That is probably the way it is with an animal, an animal that is being pursued, in those moments of greatest danger.
I don't know how long I ran in that fashion, but I suddenly took a fall on the stump of a tree. My foot was badly bruised. Weak and soaked with sweat, I remained lying on the stump, and I may have lost consciousness for a short time. I could no longer hear shooting, but my heart was beating like a hammer; at any second, I thought, it might give one beat and come to a halt.
The sun up above burned severely, and instinctively I turned over and dug myself into the thick moss. I lay there like that for some time, but then I heard more shooting. I leapt out of my spot and began to run again, this time more cautiously, looking around to see where I was and where I was running to.
The woods became more sparse. I saw, from a distance, a sandy path, a few houses, and, I believe, a church. I took off my striped prison coat and carried it in my hand. Then I ran across a wide clearing of chopped-down trees and turned off to one side. I couldn't run any more. Now I was walking and jumping a little, making long, quick steps. My bruised foot was terribly painful, completely swollen, but I still kept going forward, straight ahead, until I found myself at the edge of the woods, near a huge water hole. Ahead of me stretched a wide road and green fields bathed in bright sunlight. (Oy, that would be no good for me!) Right across from me, on the other side of the road, stood a long wooden bam. No dwellings could be seen nearby.
How could I get to the bam? Not thinking for very long, I threw myself over to the water hole, jumped in, and refreshed myself a little; then I ran across the road and fell against one of the wide bam doors. No good: The bam was closed up tight. I tried to tear open one door, then a second one, but they did not yield. I walked around the long barn, came to the other side, and did the same thing again, and Oh! A stroke ofluck! I noticed a space between the two halves of one door. And from where, in that moment, did I acquire the strength of Samson the Great? And how did I become so thin and small, like a little mouse? I pushed the two halves of the door a little further apart and squeezed myself through them. Now I was inside! I took a quick look around and without further thought I crawled down and dug myself into a huge pile
of old, dusty straw.
I had not been there long before I felt I was suffocating. The dust, the lack of air under the pile of old straw! And the heat-my wet, steamy body burned as though on fire. Once again I collected my remaining strength. I scrambled deeper under the straw, pushed my way over to the wall, and stuck my nose into a slit between two boards. I breathed in some of the fresh air, and got a look at the wide road, the woods across the way, and ... Oh, my God! On the edge of the woods, two of the shooters were standing, with rifles in their hands, looking around on all sides, and talking between themselves. I could even hear the ring of their voices.
For quite a while they stood. Then they walked around on the edge of the woods and on the road. They went over to the barn, attempted to open one door, then another, and listened for sounds. Finally, they went back into the woods and disappeared.
I was safe. But such odd creatures are human beings! They can live not only in houses with comfort, light, air, and many rooms, but also pressed down under a pile of old, dusty, moldy straw. For almost a full month I made my home under that pile of straw-all of twenty-nine days and twenty-nine nights. And...I lived, though that kind of life you certainly would not envy. Only three things made me miserable, and those were: my thoughts, my hunger, and lastly, the lice.
Are you familiar with the expression My heart wept? The heart within me wept, lamented, yammered, and was wracked with painful convulsions. I didn't have Bobrov or Gershon or the others, those very last faithful, close friends, whom I had so recently seen and talked with. We had been going the same way, sharing the same goal, the same thoughts, the same life-and suddenly, the way had been cut off. The life had been taken away. They were now lying in a pit in the woods, in exactly the kind of abandoned and unmarked grave we had all seen together and deplored. They, too, had wanted to live, to go on and achieve something-and now I was left alone, lonely and forlorn, without anyone to speak to, and without a word to hear....
Oh, how frightening the loneliness was for me then, the stillness, and the screaming thoughts in my head! I used to talk day and night with Bobrov, with Gershon, and with the others, speaking quietly, but also aloud, in full voice. I used to listen carefully to my own words and a grim fright would befall me. From time to time, it seemed to me that I was out of my mind.
In Loneliness and Grieving- Despair
For two full days and nights I lay like that under the heap of straw, without food, without drink, and without movement. On the third day, when it was already close to nightfall, I crept out, opened one of the barn doors from inside, and went onto the road, heading for the nearest town, which I had seen a couple of days earlier while running. I knocked on the door of one house, then
a second house, and begged for a piece of bread, but as soon as they noticed my clothing and my appearance, they closed the doors.and windows out of fear and anger, and drove me away. When I knocked on the door of a third house, two men ran out with sticks in their hands and shouted that I should immediately disappear from their town, or else they would drag me straight to the police. What choice did I have? I went away into the barn and under my pile of straw.
The next day, at nightfall, I crept out again, but this time I headed not for the houses but for the gardens. In the darkness I sought out a garden, felt with my hands cucumbers and tomatoes, and threw myself down on the food. I had never before in my life eaten such juicy, tasty, and refreshing food as those half-ripe tomatoes and cucumbers. I stretched myself out between the beds of growing vegetables, and I ate and ate without stopping. Somehow, the food seemed to make me weak and dependent, so that I could hardly move from the spot. Or had I become sick? No, that couldn't be! I spent the whole night lying in the garden. When it was becoming daylight, I picked myself up and saw an even better food-beans. I stuffed my shirt full of beans and cucumbers and made my way back to my hiding place in the barn.
That is how I lived in the barn for twenty-nine days and nights. Every night I would go out to the water hole opposite the barn to wash myself all over and drink my fill of water. Every third night I would head for the garden and take with me beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Very soon I became rich with other food as well-kernels of wheat and corn. The time had come for cutting the grain, and during the day the farmer used to drive into the barn and lay down sheaves of wheat and corn. He and his wife and two children, along with his worker, a Russian war prisoner, used to wander for days in and around the barn, and I would be under their very noses, eating kernel after kernel from a bundle of wheat or corn that I had dragged, during the night, into my hiding place.
I lay near the wall of the barn, looked through the slit, and saw what was going on around there. Dozens, even hundreds of people, men and women, were on the road with spades, axes, and saws. I could hear them chopping down trees and ripping open holes in the earth. I understood that the Germans were telling the civilian population, and also the Russian war prisoners who were working with the farmers, to dig trenches and make fortifications. They were getting ready, it seemed, for a lengthy resistance. I watched all the activ- · ity with interest, eating my kernels of wheat and corn, and my cucumbers, tomatoes, and beans. I had become pretty comfortable with my life under the pile of straw.
But I perceived quickly that it wouldn't last long. From the constant chewing on hard, dry kernels, my mouth became swollen and painful. A terrible weakness and dizziness came over me. At night, walking around in the barn, I had to hold onto or lean against something, in order not to fall down. And to
add to that, lice were eating me alive, both night and day, without stopping. What could I do, where could I go, in my obvious prison clothes, all by myself, in such frightful loneliness, not knowing the local region, and encircled on all sides by bloody enemies and murderers?
Should I just remain lying in the straw, in the barn, and die a long, slow, unavoidable death, like a mouse in a hole? Oh, no! My burning, feverish brain would not permit that. I had to get beyond the bodily weakness. I had to find a way out. How could I even think about not surviving until the moment of revenge? The moment of Germany's downfall? No, I had to find a way. I had to continue fighting!
And again, as though by a miracle, I found new strength in myself. I came to a firm decision. For two nights I wandered around in the barn, searching and foraging, until I found a couple of old, tom cloth sacks and a thin wire that had been lying around on some empty boxes. I dragged those things into my hiding place, and by the light that shone in there through the slit in the wall, I sewed, out of the two sacks, a pair of trousers. The thin wire served me in place of thread.
In the evening, I crept out, pulled the new trousers on over my old prison pants, and put my formerly bright blue prison shirt, which was now black, over my small prison coat. Then I made myself a belt with a piece of string and attached it where necessary with wire. That is how I was able to hide my otherwise quite obvious prison clothes. Next, I took a spade I found in the barn, cautiously opened a door, and ran swiftly across the road and into the woods. It was still quite light out. I sat down for a little while. Everything before my eyes was terribly blurred, and my head was spinning. I washed myself in the water hole, and then, carrying my spade on my shoulder, I set off along the wide road. I encountered lots of people, including Germans, on foot or driving by, but I kept going straight ahead, like everyone else, and after walking for a couple of kilometers, I turned off on a side road, near the woods, and went into a farmer's house. Speaking Russian, I begged for some food.
A Tale of a Ppair of Patched Trousers
I told them a whole story. I said, I am a Russian war prisoner. I work for a homeowner· twenty-five kilometers away, and a couple of days ago they sent me to work here, to dig trenches. My boss gave me enough food for two weeks, but you know, of course, that yesterday there was a heavy rainfall. I got soaked with rain, even to my bones, so I hung up my clothes to dry in a barn where we were all spending the night, about fifty men altogether ... And, you know, of course, what these times are like. They stole everything from me, even my little sack of food, so I was left without food and without trousers. You can see how I am dressed-in trousers made of sacks. What do I want? Why, I want to eat, and, if possible, I'd like a pair of trousers, old, tom....
Food they gave me, as much as I could eat: a plate of milky noodle soup,
then a second one, a third one, and with wonderment they looked on as I ate a fourth and fifth plate. I am now confessing that I had never before in my life eaten such delicious noodle soup as I ate in that farmer's house. I had in general not known that noodle soup could have such a heavenly taste. Seeing that I was so hungry, they also gave me half a loaf of bread with a piece of cheese, and put it in a sack that I could take with me on the road. When it came to the matter of the trousers, they told me they didn't have even an old or a tom pair-but I saw that in the kitchen, on the wall, there hung a pair of expensive yet tom old trousers with large new patches. I thought to myself, Oh, how good those trousers would be for me....
I took my leave of the farmer's family, and went away, but not far, only to the nearest trench.
I spent a good few hours lying in the trench, till midnight probably, and had myself a very delightful nap, after such an unusual evening meal. Then I approached the house again, removed a pane of glass from the kitchen window, and crept in. Crawling out again, I had become, if not the lawful, at least the factual owner of a pair of old, patched trousers. Oh, how fortunate I felt at that moment! All I needed now was a small coat or jacket, and then...then the entire world around me, with its broad woods, swamps, and holes, was open tome!
You may be of the opinion that I had done an injustice to the good farmer Shtockmans was his name. I, in your place, would perhaps also think that. But in order to calm your troubled conscience, I will get a little ahead of myself in my story, and tell you briefly how I came to be in his house again, in winter, four months later. Our partisan group was at that time conducting operations in the woods about fifteen kilometers from where he lived. I, together with two comrades, went and paid him a visit in the middle of the night. Understandably enough, he did not recognize me, and his fright was great when he saw in front of him three armed bandits (as we were officially called according to German nomenclature). But then we took out a bottle of local whiskey called Samogonke, and he added something good to eat with it, and I began to joke with him a little. I reminded him of the five plates of noodle soup and the vanished trousers. At that point the whole family recognized me, and Shtockmans himself acknowledged:
I had thought at the time that you were a runaway Jew, and when you went away, I was very sorry that I had not given you a pair of trousers. But the following morning I really rejoiced to see that you yourself had taken the trousers, and that...you hadn't taken anything else. Oh, I am not at all angry with you about the trousers. Just the opposite; I'm delighted.
The farmer was well acquainted with Gershon Yakobson, and was very sorry about what had happened to him. Everyone in the region, he said, knew about it and deeply regretted it. But what could one do? This was such a wild and bloody time, and people were not people, but animals, worse than animals.
When I told him that I was the only one of the five Jews of Yakobson's group who had run away, the farmer jumped up and could not get over that amazing fact:
So then that's why they searched in the whole area around here, and promised ten pounds of sugar and one pound of tobacco to anyone who could help find you!
He looked at me as though I were some kind of fantastic phenomenon, and I thought to myself, Who knows what kind of ideas are floating around in the dark minds of human beings, and even in your mind, my dear Shtockmans? Would you have resisted the temptation if you had known at the time who I was? Would you have earned the ten pounds of sugar and the pound of tobacco? Who knows?
My partisan comrades and I relished very much the warmth, the whiskey, and the food in Shtockmans' house. We simply had no desire, in the middle of the night, to leave a warm home and go back out into the cold air of the woods. But we had to leave. Partisans dared not sit around for long in one place. Shtockmans then gave us exact information about the guards who had participated in the shooting of my four friends-information that I quickly made use of.
As we were leaving, I gave him a new military uniform that I had taken off
a German officer and kept especially for him, for Shtockmans. Let him dye it a different color, alter it-it was my gift to him for the pair of trousers that had been so useful to me.
In My Home, in the Woods
Only the beginning is difficult. After that things go more easily ....
I was still at that difficult beginning. I now had a pair of trousers, but I still did not have a small topcoat or jacket of the kind I would need to be able to show myself among people. And without a jacket it was already cold in the woods, especially during the night. I spent the next day hidden in the woods. I warmed myself in the sun, drank water from a nearby pool, and ate from the sack Schtockmans gave me-such expensive food as bread and cheese. (No more dried out wheat kernels!) I lived, as we used to say in the old days, like summertime in the country. At nightfall, I picked myself up, walked quite a little distance, and approached a large, well-appointed farmhouse. I had already eaten up all the food in my new sack, and I hoped to obtain something really substantial to fill it up again.
In the house they received me quite coldly, and with suspicion. They took to asking me too many questions, and barely gave me anything to eat. No one even said a word about giving me bread and whatever else to take with me on the road. That I strongly resented-I had taken such a long walk for nothing.
I got up quickly, went away, and in the middle of the night I came back. After
much exhausting effort, I opened some kind of little window in the kitchen wall and went inside. I found a couple of large loaves of bread, a piece of old smoked meat, butter, cheese, and a couple of dozen tiny smoked fish-the sardine-like things that people used to bring to market to sell. But what I was really looking for was something else-a jacket or topcoat-and I did, in fact, get my hands on such a garment.
I had barely succeeded in crawling back out through the window and picking up my sack when lights came on in a couple of the house's windows and a little dog began to bark. As I quickly got out of the farmyard, I heard a door or a window open. Then came the sharp report of two shots from a hunting rifle. I disappeared into the woods, and for the rest of the night and early morning, I ran without stopping, until I stumbled upon a small, lonely barn packed with fresh hay. It was one of those forest barns, which I afterwards encountered quite often in the woods. Forest barns were where the farmers used to keep the hay they cut from the meadows in the woods; during the winter, they would transport that hay to their own farmyards. These isolated forest barns came to play a very important role in my lonely life in the woods-!used to occupy them from time to time, lying there for days and nights in solitude.
The barn was not locked, but for the sake of caution, I crawled into it not through the door but from above, where there was a board tom loose. Then I settled in and lived like a lord for as long as my food lasted. I dug out for myself, deep in the hay, near the wall, a kind of nest, and that's where I dragged myself, my spade, and my sack with the food and the new topcoat. That was everything that I owned, and there I lay day and night in sorrow and solitude, and devoted myself to my sad thoughts and my brighter dreams and hopes. I dreamed about life and about living long enough to experience the moment of freedom and revenge.
But what purpose would be served by lying hidden in a barn? I would have to give myself a turn among people, and get a taste of what was going on in the world. So again I took up my spade, my now-shrunken sack, and my new topcoat, and ... Do you know what kind of topcoat it was? In the brightness of daylight, it turned out not to be a man's topcoat, but an older woman's jacket, of cotton, with ingenious large buttons. Well, I thought to myself, let it be a woman's jacket. I am thinned down enough so that it fits me, and I need it. At night and in the morning it's already cold enough. Besides, no one looks at fashions in the woods. Nevertheless, I tore off the fancy buttons and replaced them with bits of wire. Now I was warm, comfortable, and acceptably dressed. And one other profitable advantage I got from that jacket-a new village species of lice....
In my new clothes, I felt much bolder. I went out onto the great road. There I saw a large group of workers walking-local men and women, Russian war prisoners, and tired civilian prisoners-all of them with spades and axes. Without reflecting for long, I began to mingle among the crowd, and when
they started working, I pitched in. They were digging trenches; I, too, dug around in the earth with my spade. But my intention was altogether different from theirs....
I very cautiously conducted conversations with the Russian prisoners and learned a great deal that was new, but what I mainly I found out was that things were not good. The Germans were not even thinking about going away from that area. You could see, after all, that they were digging new trenches everywhere, and were making fortifications that were three lines deep. A huge German army was encircled and locked in here, in Kurland, as though in a kettle-they had been pushed to the edge of the sea and could not go beyond that-but the Red Army had come to a halt. The Russians.... Who knew what they were waiting for, or why they were allowing the Germans to build such strong fortifications? Meanwhile, the Germans were in command, with their Latvian helpers, the police, and their officers, and they did whatever they wished. They were in the woods with their bloodhounds, chasing after runaway Latvian soldiers and runaway Jews. Those whom they caught were immediately shot.... On the other hand, Russian partisans had appeared, way off in the wilder woods. They were overturning worlds there...perhaps they would come and overturn things nearby, too....
That last unclear bit of information was for me the most important. Partisans! How could I get to them? Where should I go to find out where their locations were?
That evening I went with all the others to spend the night in a huge barn, and do you know which one? It was the same one where for a long time I lay hidden under the pile of straw. I knew that barn very well....
The next morning, I perceived that there was no point in hanging around with the others. They had taken to asking me too many questions. They wanted to know exactly where I came from, in which military unit I had served, and where was I taken prisoner. ... Besides, I didn't have any food. At midday, I began to move away from the others, first going off to one side, and then breaking from the group altogether. I went back home, into the woods-I the pursued wild animal, who had no place among people.
And so my life in the woods stretched out for two and a half months, in constant solitude and danger. I dragged myself around, hiding out in holes and woodland barns, half hungry and not knowing what tomorrow, or the very next minute, would bring.
It was already harvest time, winter was coming closer, and I was even more lonely and isolated. Yes, the loneliness was more terrifying than anything else. If only there was one other being, no matter who, just someone with whom to share a word. Even a dog or some other animal would do! But there wasn't anyone. I was like a solitary, cursed ghost of the forest.
But I shall not recount for you every detail-how and where I lived for two and a half months, how I managed to get food, how I wandered aimlessly
about, what I thought, and what I did. Instead, I will give you a song that I wrote down while I was lying in a forest barn. At the time I had no paper, so I wrote it on a shingle board that I found there. A few months later, I went back and found the board again.
Here is what I felt at that time, and what I wrote down:
|I am a wild animal, pursued....
Just like a wolf, a fox, or a mouse.
I lie hidden in woods and holes,
Here near a hillock, there beside a river,
Here beside a nearby farm house,
And in a barn, beneath the hay,
Here in the stall, a warm corner
I seek out, between the dust and the straw!
Where I spent the day, I do not spend the night...
In the distance shooting is heard
I look from a distance-at the path through the woods,
|Weeks and months are going by,
Now the summer and the harvest time are gone.
The bitter winter looks cold and gruesome
From my homeless hiding place.
Night in the forest is long, cold and sleepless,
A restless day arrives, then passes...
The heart weeps in silent loneliness:
Save me, please, oh God, from death!
Grant me, now, oh God, very sharp nails,
...And meanwhile, at the nearest war front
|(Written in the woods of Kurland, near Ugale, September, 1944.)|
A Drop of Human Warmth
Not in a bright and early morning, as people are wont to say, but rather in a dark fall night did I pick myself up from my barn and set out through the forests. I had decided to go to Ugale and see a farmer who had been a friend of Yakobson. I could no longer endure the loneliness in the woods. I felt drawn to human beings, to any human beings at all. From the farmer, I hoped to learn more about the lives of my comrades. I thought he might also give me some information about the partisans, if there were any in the surrounding woods.
For half the night I wandered around on tiny, barely noticeable little paths and byways, and finally I came out onto a broad forest road. I did not know exactly where I was. Suddenly I heard a loud crashing sound among the branches, and a few dark figures, like ghosts in the woods, jumped past my nose. Instinctively, I threw myself down on the ground. The figures, it turned out, were just a group of frightened wild goats, but I had barely managed to figure that out when four police officers drove past me on bicycles, so close that I could hear their voices, and see their faces, which were lit up from their cigarettes.
Well, I said to myself a while later, speaking in a loud voice, as to a per-
son next to me, this time it was the wild goats that saved you. They detected sooner than you that danger was near, and with their noisy leaps they gave you a timely warning. It was God's instruction to you. If not for the wild goats, you would certainly have stumbled upon those murderers face to face, as you did once before. You remember, don't you? Be cautious, and....Why do you have to go walking all night on wide roads? Where are you rushing to? You don't have time? And why are you racing to Ugale? Who is waiting there for you-a father, a brother, a relative? Everywhere the same farmers, everywhere the same Nazi-type enslavement and rottenness, where you, the 'yude,' are not kosher, and where they will sell you for a bottle of whiskey, or for a little sugar and tobacco.... Don't you know that yourself? Haven't you seen and heard enough? Where are you running to? Stay at home, in the woods....
That, I remember quite clearly, was the way I talked to myself, out loud. It did seem that the loneliness, the complete lack of anyone to share a word with, had brought me to that pass. I did not follow my own advice to stay hidden in the woods; I wanted to see actual people, and learn what was going on in the world. I set out again to follow the wide road.
Early in the morning, when it was just barely becoming light out, I came upon a crossroads, and there, from what was written on a signpost, I learned that I was not at all going in the direction of Ugale, but rather toward Piltine, a very small town. That meant I had lost my way .... So what? I thought. Let it be Piltine. What difference does it make where I am? Wherever I go, the same things await me, everywhere the same prospect. Let's go where fate is leading me.
I passed by a few homes along the road, but at the first side path, I plunged again into the dense forest. Gradually the woods became more sparse, and I began to see meadows, lawns, and fenced-in grazing ground. Then in the distance-a poor farmer's home on the edge of a second forest, which looked as though it would be very large and dense. I came closer, stationed myself behind a thick tree, and for a good hour I observed what was going on around the house, who went in and who came out.
Out of the chimney streamed a black smoke, which reminded me that I was wet and hungry, and that inside the house the oven would be heating up. It would be warm, and there would be a hearty peasant breakfast cooking. It even seemed to me that I could smell the meat and potatoes, and feel the warmth of the smoky kitchen. And again I recalled that there were still people in the world who were living happily, who were well fed and warm, with a roof over their heads.... I drove those unnecessary thoughts out of my mind. With firm strides, I headed for the house, went inside, and begged for something to eat. I had arrived exactly at breakfast time.
And so it was predestined that the Dooks family, as they were named, would play a fateful role in my lonely, animal-like life in the woods. The mother of the family, who was nearing her fifties, understood from my first
words who I was and how I came to be there. She didn't show any of that, but after breakfast, when we were alone, she burst into tears and told me that in the town of Piltine, which was seven or eight kilometers away, she had had many good Jewish friends. Her son and daughter had also had many Jewish friends there. But now they had all been killed. She could never forget that, and kept on weeping over their bitter fate. Yes, she knew that I was a Jew, but I should not be afraid-she wouldn't tell anyone, and of course not even her own family, because who knew what might slip out of their mouths?
Briefly stated, the farmer's wife, Clara Dooks, a woman with an extraordinarily fine and sensitive sympathetic soul, took me in like a member of the family, like a good old friend. It simply had not occurred to me that such good-hearted and dedicated people as her and her whole family still existed. The first thing she wanted was that I should make myself more orderly. I did not understand what she meant by that. So she handed me a small piece of a mirror. I took one look, and-I was astounded: The man looking back at me had a fallen face, with a pair of sunken, unfamiliar, wild-looking eyes and a thick, overgrown, black-and-gray beard. I didn't recognize myself.
The Dookses helped me regain a more human appearance. I shaved my three- or four-months-old beard. The master of the house, Krishian Dooks, gave me a haircut. They warmed the little bed, and at night, having been bathed and groomed, and clothed in fresh, clean undergarments and a neatly pressed shirt and trousers, I sat down at the table with the whole family and ate the evening meal.
The small kerosene lamp barely lit up the kitchen, and from the oven there came a pleasant warmth. The chick pea filling of the blintzes, with butter and sour cream, melted all through our bodies. Everyone spoke to me quietly and in friendly fashion, and remarkably-like an enchanted person, I again felt that everything had already taken place long, long ago. I saw clearly that I had once before sat with these same people, and that I was reliving the entire experience, including my own thoughts. Some odd imaginings were swirling about in my mind....
A light knock on the window shutter tore me away from these thoughts. I leapt up and made a dash to the back door of the darkened room, but the family members quickly quieted me down:
It's nothing. It's only Arvids. He sneaks into the house sometimes, at night....
They opened the door, and in came a tall, healthy man, about twenty years old, with a smiling and open countenance. This was their son, Arvids. He had been mobilized to fight with the Germans, but he had at once run away, and was now hiding in the woods. The German and Latvian police had already come by a few times looking for him, but even though they had turned the whole house upside down, they fortunately had not found him. Now he was living in the woods, wandering around not far away, together with two com-
rades much like himself.
For a couple of weeks I enjoyed being in the company of the Dookses. It was understood that I could not remain in their house, because that would have been too risky for both me and them. But Arvids had now become my best friend, and I went away with him into the woods. Late at night we would sneak back into the house to have a bite of something warm to eat. From time to time we would also let ourselves go there purely for pleasure, warming ourselves in the middle of the night in the heated little beds. Mostly we stayed in the dense forest, however.
Arvids was a born forest person. He knew every little path and byway in the area, and from him I gained quite a bit of practical knowledge that soon became very useful to me. A few times we came unexpectedly upon Russian soldiers, prisoners of war, who had run away from the Germans and were hiding out like us. Like suspicious wolves, we would first move cautiously closer to them; then, after we figured out who they were, things would become good brotherhood between us, and we would share food and cigarettes. I learned from some of these soldiers about organized partisan groups. They were supposed to be operating somewhere in the largest forests. Oh, one could find them if one wanted to....
But neither Arvids nor the runaway Russians had any desire to look for partisans, so I made up my mind to go it alone. At night I said goodbye to that friendly family, the Dookses, and Clara Dooks gave me a full bag of food for the road, along with a simple hand-sewn blanket from her daughter's dowry box. I really did not want to take such a large, valuable gift, but she insisted that I accept it. With tears in our eyes, we wished that we might meet again soon, in better times, and then I set out on my way.
Arvids accompanied me for about a dozen kilometers, until we had crossed a wide border. There he led me up to a narrow forest path and gave me my last instructions:
Go on this little path, straight ahead, always straight. Do not tum off to the left or to the right. To the left there is a huge lord's manor, with a large courtyard where Germans are staying. To the right you will end up in a swamp. Go straight for a dozen kilometers. That's where the most dense of the large forests begin. There you will not see a house of any kind for about a dozen kilometers, and there, probably, is where the partisan camp is located. You will surely find it, and you will quickly sense that it is the right place. Now there are many people wandering around in the woods, and these days a human life is not worth anything, so be careful. One, two, and you are shot, finished. Don't make any unnecessary acquaintances. Remember-this side is south; here it is east; there it is west. That's what you have to know, and without it, you can easily get lost in these great woods. And stay close to this little path. It goes through all of the woods. You will surely meet up with the people you are looking for. One always meets in the woods.... So be well!
With those clear and precise instructions, I set out, in God's care, across the great wide woods.
A few of the Jewish partisans who fought the Germans in the Lithuanian forests
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