With first light on June 22, 1941, the Germans crossed the border and invaded the Soviet Union. Our regiment retreated with fright towards Baranovitch, but retreating, we avoided the cities already taken by the German tanks. We turned to the Minsk road, between Mir and Stolpzi. Here, we were overtaken by the Germans. We - my friend Molly Wand, two soldiers from the Red Army and I, managed to escape from the road and slip to the forests.
After a half-day in the forest we found out that Minsk had fallen in the hands of the Germans. For two days we hid in the forest but our hunger had become oppressive, so I went by myself to look for food. I reached a Polish village where I was fed generously by a Polish farmer who even filled my bags with food for my friends in the forest. The farmers told us that the Germans announced to the villagers that from now on they could make use of all the property left by the Soviets at their withdrawal (meaning the lands of the Kolchozs, the Sovchozs and all the materials in them).
Back in the forest I told my friends that we were surrounded. They suggested giving ourselves up to the Germans of our own free will but I was adamantly opposed. I decided, on my own, to reach my hometown which was 400 km away. My decision influenced that of my friends, who did not want to join me but decided to stay in the forest. I parted from my friends heartily and made my way again to that village where generous farmers supplied me with civilian cloths and food.
As the Germans opened up the Soviet camps and jails, the roads were filled with political prisoners. This helped me present myself as a "released political prisoner" and using secondary roads I turned towards Molodetchna. The first town in my way was Ivinitz. The town resembled a ghost town. Its Jews locked themselves and dared not go outside. A Jew whom I stumbled upon explained that looking for relatives in this town was useless; it would be better to leave soon since danger was lurking ahead. Due to lack of choice, I left Ivinitz and on my way to Molodetchna I slept that night in a pigsty in a field. No farmer would let me enter his home. The Germans had warned in a special announcement that prisoners of war - Red Army soldiers or Jews, should not be housed.
Before arriving in Molodetchna it was hinted to me that my shaved head could arouse German suspicion, since every man whose head is shaved is sent to P.O.W. camp. With a farmer leading his cows, I managed to get to town. Another Jew told me that the Germans were treating the Jews brutally, forcing them to do hard work and with bare hands - without equipment - they are forced to fix the roads. I realized that this town would not be a good hiding place, not even for a short while, and turned toward the town Stary-Vileika, where my brother Jacob lived, but reaching his house was impossible. He lived close to the rail way station and at the time the non-Jewish residents of the town were busy pillaging train carts full of sugar and liquor which were left behind by the Russians. The streets were swarming with drunkards. In spite of everything I succeeded in reaching the place and found out that my brother and his wife, Hasia, escaped to Russia.
I kept wandering. I spent the night at the attic of a woman who worked as a cleaning lady with the N.K.V.D. There was no order in the town so I could still rest my head someplace. She led me up to the attic and I was fast asleep. In the middle of the night I heard some poles breaking into the woman's house to search it. They even reached the attic but luckily, I was not discovered as I hid under the hay.
In the morning, I was told by the woman that a Jew was just shot to death for refusing to give up his bicycle.
At nightfall I arrived in Dolginov, which I found in utter confusion. I spent the night with my relatives, the Mirkens, and at dawn continued to Dokshitz.
I arrived in Dokshitz on the 29th or 30th of June in 1941. Notices were posted on the streets telling all former soldiers to present themselves at the German headquarters. Thanks to my ragged farmer's cloths, I was not recognized. I entered the house of my relatives who immediately sent word to my parents. My father, Mendel, promptly arrived and took me home where I hid for many days.
The Germans forced the Jews to do dirty hard labor. Later the Jews were sent to help the farmers at their tasks. Nothing was received in exchange for this labor.
The first two victims of the Germans were Musin, a deranged man, and Markman, who was shot to death in his home. In July, the decree to wear the yellow patch, was made public.
In those days I turned to the community to sign up for work. The workers were concentrated every morning and in small groups were sent to work or to temporary camps. The discipline in the camps was extremely strict. When Zalman Raskind was a few minutes late for work, he was ordered to crawl on all four and a German soldier flogged him twenty-five times. We watched, suffered and kept quiet as we saw the strong and healthy Zalman Raskind shiver with pain at every lashing. In our hearts we swore revenge and little did we imagine that in a short while most of the town Jews would not be among the living.
The Germans began choosing the craftsmen from the group of workers. I was sent to cloths workshop, and with its primitive equipment we worked for the army. On this work, was my fate dependent during the horrible times of the Nazi occupation. A local authority was appointed in Dokshitz. As head-council, the Germans appointed the so called "quiet" Pole, Kovalsky; As chief of police - Komolka, who was a master sergeant in the Polish army. He was born in Poznan but spoke German. He collected twenty-five policemen such as himself: The brothers Winitch, the brothers Litvin, Yochniewitch, Taragonsky etc. In their brutal and cruel treatment of the Jews they surpassed even their German masters. Komolka used to be a prisoner of the Soviets but in their haste they did not take him with them. The Germans released him and now he served them loyally. In 1951 Komolka was caught and hanged after a trial in Poznan.
As "mayor" was appointed Spitchonk, who hid the Jewish family, the Kramers (now in the U.S.A.). This man perished as a result of a partisan grenade.
From Germany arrived the "hangmen": Hartman, whom I worked for Until the "final liquidation", and his helpers: Ungerman, Dimenovsky, Strathoff and a few "unterams".
When the Gestapo arrived the first thing done by it was "taking care" of the Jews who were active under Russian rule: Gronam Kloft, Abraham Levitan, Zalman Tzicklin and others. After four days of torture they were taken outside of town where they were shot to death, their grave unknown until today.
The Germans allowed the second group of victims: Israel Freedman, Hana Bloch, Razel Freedman and others to be buried in a common grave. This happened in the month of August in 1941. It was then that we began to receive news of mass killings of Jews in neighboring towns like Berezino and Begomel. In these murders took part the aforementioned policemen who were so good at their job that some of them were promoted.
The terrible danger awaiting the Jewish population slowly seeped through into our consciousness. With Hartman's permission I began sewing at home. My payment was bread rolls, sometimes a loaf of bread, a steak or a bit of tobacco. Despite the rumors and news of mass killings of Jews, we still insisted on disillusioning ourselves that this was the fate only of the Jews living in the east, in the territory under Soviet rule.
Already was noticed a shortage of foodstuffs although a veritable hunger was yet to come. The Jewish children were unable to renew their studies in the schools for these were shut down at German orders. Also, praying in synagogues and houses of the Lord on new-year's-day was forbidden. Only in Yom Kippur, after chief Komulka was bribed with money and a new suit, were we allowed to pray in a remote house. however, already early in the morning, during the hour of "shaharit" policemen showed up, which he himself sent, and dispersed the faithful.
In the period between June and the holidays, we were made to pay every two weeks different payments- in Zloty, in Dollars, in gold or in shoes and furs .
The Ghetto in Dokshitz
In September 1941 the area commissioner made public an order to set up a ghetto in Dokshitz. The ghetto area began from the synagogue yard and included some adjacent alleys and and part of the main street, Kostiushko.
On a Saturday all Jews were ordered to move into the ghetto within two hours and to take with them anything that can be loaded on a hand-wagon. Once again, the Jews needed to bribe the enforcers of the decree so as to lengthen the time allocated to the transfer to the ghetto. As our house was to be found inside the area allotted to the ghetto, we were spared the burden of transfer. However, in our house settled four other families. The Judenrat, set up immediately after the German conquest was moved to the ghetto as well. The Judenrat people did all in their power to help and make things easier. In fact, they did manage to reopen the synagogue and set up a clinic. At first, only one nurse was employed - Sonia Want. Later worked there also the doctor Shim'on Gleichenhous, a native of Dokshitz, having spent most of his years in soviet Russia and managing a field hospital in Vilna. Running from the Germans, the man hid with his relatives in Dokshitz.
All experts working for the Germans received permits (Sheinen) to perform their work. My father and I received schänen as well in order to sew their cloths.
Hunger creeped in on the 3000 souls residing in the ghetto. Not even the 300 gram bread - per - person was given out regularly and often was given very late. If not for the large number of craftsmen and men employed at the camps that were able to leave the ghetto on a daily basis and buy or exchange valuables for food, many a person would have died.
In Passover Taf shin beit (1942) rumors reached us saying that in all towns east of Dokshitz: Dolginov, Olchanovitch and Butzlav within Polish territory there were no Jews left. This was a project called "judenfrei" by the Nazis. Fear and horror took their hold on the Jews at the face of extermination, the fate of the Jews of the aforementioned towns.
The First Pogrom
The first pogrom took place in April, 1942. The local police, without help from the Germans, barged into the ghetto and began to rage and take vengence upon the Jews from the the days of Polish or Soviet rule. Stumbling upon a Jew they would arrest him; others were simply taken from their homes. Among them were my uncle, Zalman Freiman, and his wife, Pesia, who ran away from their home seeking refuge in ours. The woman alone managed to escape while my uncle was caught.
Early the next morning a group of youngsters were ordered by policemen to deepen the hole from which mainly sand was taken out, and which was found in the vicinity of the Jewish cemetery. Now, the arrested Jews were led there and shot. The murder was witnessed by many Christian habitants who were there at the time. We, too, in the ghetto heard clearly echoes of many shots and the single shots finishing off the wounded. The group of youngsters which had dug the grave was sent back to the ghetto. With my uncle Zalman, caught and killed, were murdered our neighbors: Katzovitch, Friedman, Sossman, Bloch and others. It should be noted that some of the Judednrat did not take part in this murder, and did not help local police in the arrest of the Jews. After this pogrom many began building hideouts and the younger generation began considering joining the partisans who were at the time already working in the forests. However, a young man wanting to join, not in possession of a weapon, was not accepted. A weapon was impossible to obtain since neither Red nor Polish armies passed through the town. Many a Jew began residing with Polish neighbors.
I was obliged to remain in my home since the entire ghetto would suffer, had a Jewish craftsman joined the partisans. I continued my work but the rest of the household commenced digging bunkers. A hole was dug under the kitchen floor 2.70 meters deep. We covered it with thick beams over which we poured much sand. The opening to the bunker was a chimney. We dug a tunnel from the garden to the bunker which supplied us with air to breath but hid it with rocks. This is how we readied ourselves for the second pogrom.
The Second Pogrom
The second "Action" took place in the month of May, 1942. At daybreak the ghetto was surrounded by the Polish police and Germans who were later to be joined by Gestapo and Gendarmerie. The Jews, forewarned, took to the bunkers. It was the Judenrat's warning who after the first pogrom posted guards around the clock to watch police and German stations. The Judenrat even planned an organized escape; one of the bunkers, in the school was to be used as a gathering point. It was useless. This hideout could contain no more than fifty persons and escape without weapons was as good as giving ourselves up, since the partisans drove away anyone coming to them weaponless. In the entire ghetto there was not one pistol to be found. Another reason keeping the youngsters from leaving the ghetto was the disinclination to leave their family behind - parents, children, woman, brothers and sisters. Most decided to hide within the ghetto.
All of our family hid in the ghetto as well. With them hid a few neighbors, together about twenty persons. My father vehemently refused to hide in the bunker and remained in his house. From our hideout we clearly heard the policemen's footsteps and the screaming of our beaten father. The German for which we sewed clothing recognized him and ordered him to be left alone. In the afternoon my father knocked on the bunker's entrance telling us the pogrom was over.
Deeply shocked we looked at the toll taken by the pogrom: The bodies of the murdered lay in the streets and the roads and sidewalks were flooded with blood. In the houses, on the beds lay shot people as well - sick people who couldn't get up from bed. In the neighbor's house lay the elder Mordechai Ze'ev Schultz with his eye flowing out of it's socket. This was my first sight of a Nazi victim.
On the bridge was Yehuda Pessach Kaplan picking up the brain of his little child, Hannan, who was clobbered by the Germans. The child's body was no more. All Jews caught in the bunkers or in their homes were concentrated in the place near the club, about 200 hundred meters from the big hole. There, the Germans checked which of them was in possession of a shein. The ones employed by the Germans were released and the rest were taken to the common grave and there shot to death. In this pogrom died 350 Jews, among which was found rabbi Sheinin. He did not hide. The murderers found him in his house praying, a Talit and Tfilin around him. When taken by the murderers to the murder place, the rabbi became happy, saying he was sanctifying the Holy Name. Was he insane?
After the "Action" no one left for work. In the afternoon the "Sonder-führer" and Komolka showed up at the Judenrat saying that since the ghetto population was down 12%-15%, the area of the ghetto will be made respectively smaller. The street Kostiushko and the adjacent alleys would be taken out. Relatives had no time to mourn their dead, having to move into a smaller and more populated ghetto immediately. The oppression was unbearable. Nevertheless, plagues did not burst out because the Judenrat was very careful about hygiene. The bathhouse worked daily.
The Last "Action" and the Final Extermination of the Ghetto (end of May, 1942)
It happened on a Saturday. At 4 o'clock in the morning we were wakened by our neighbor and relative, Zeinell Kazinitch, telling us the ghetto was surrounded. Enforced shifts were posted near the river, at the ghetto border. On the other side of the ghetto, bordering the main street, shifts were posted as well. The ghetto is surrounded from every which way, and there is no way to escape.
This time, as in precedent cases, the Jews imagined they could save themselves hiding in bunkers.
In our bunker, as well as our family, hid the neighbors; Lipkind, Markman, and Freiman; aunt Pesia (grandfather was killed in the second "action") and others. All in all 20 persons. Since the space was not sufficient for us all, some of them moved to another bunker which we dug under the floor.
When the Germans entered the ghetto they found no one except for Judenrat members, their families, and the chief of Jewish police - Warfman. This time they did not hide, as in the second action since the ghetto Jews denounced them for hiding in the past instead of trying to save Jewish lives by way of bribery.Now the Germans found them in the Judenrat building, used also as the apartment of the Judneltester, Ya'akov Butwinik. The Germans now took their anger out on these Jews beating them savagely. They were later taken to a side alley near our hiding place.
At eight o'clock in the morning the Germans found our trail and began taking apart the oven under which our bunker was built. With the first rays entering, the shouting began: "Juden, heraus"!
No one answered their calls and they threatened to throw in a hand - grenade if we didn't come out.
There was no reason left to remain in the bunker. I was the first to come out and was given a blow in the neck with a cudgel. I scurried out and was beaten savagely in the legs. I was surrounded by Gestapo armed with sub-machine guns and bats. I crossed quickly the corridor leading to the door, skipped over the balcony , and not sparing a look back, I was already on the other side of the street, leaving the Gestapo murderers behind.
The ones left behind were beaten mercilessly. My father was hit in the head and bled profusely.
All of a sudden I found myself near a group of Judenrat men: Warfman, his wife, and his daughters. Inside of an hour 70 Jews were taken to this place. we were all taken to the ghetto gates and there sat down under heavy guard.
Sonder-führer Hartman arrived and seeing my father's bleeding head, ordered one of the policemen to bring water and turning to my father said: "Haben sie keine angest, sie wärden leben belieben" ("don't worry, you'll stay alive"). Naturally, we did not believe this.
More and more Jews were brought. Some of them wept and some lay on the ground and did not get up. Next to me sat Gdallia Levin, the tubercular, and whispered in my ear: "Take a good look at the trees and the houses, you shall not see them again. These will stay after we are gone, nothing changed, but we will not. The world will keep on existing but many Jews will not be in it". I remember his words, until today. They are engraved in my memory forever.
In the afternoon the Judneltester, Butwinik, was led to the police station in Gleboki, so that he could not escape. On the way he saw a group of farmers waiting impatiently for the end of the ghetto extermination so that they could pillage the houses of the murdered. They told him that extermination had begun. remembering the discontentment after the last "action" he decided to turn on his tracks, but the two ghetto policemen with him decided to keep going toward the Gleboki ghetto hoping it was still there.
When Butwinik reached the ghetto gate he was arrested immediately and taken to the concentration area where I found him among the other arrested. A Gestapo officer came to him, and taking some bullets for a Russian rifle from his shirt pocket, said: "Look what the Judenrat men are busying themselves with". He slapped his face and ordered him to sit down under heavy guard.
At that moment, a man, David Glazer, asked the policeman for a match to light a cigarette. When he was offered the match, Glazer began running towards the ghetto. They shot at him but missed. We thought him insane since it was impossible to escape from the surrounded ghetto. Later, when we met in the Gleboki ghetto, he told me he had been hurt in his leg from the shots but managed to reach shelter. He dressed the bleeding wound by himself and arrived in the Gleboki ghetto after 4 days and nights.
When the Germans collected 350 Jews they ordered us on our feet. They put Butwinik at the head and told him to lead us. Surrounded by four rows of policeman, we were led through Pilsodsky street. The people standing on both sides of the sidewalk, looked at us indifferently. We thought we would be led to the "Club" where they would make a "selection" but no, we were led straight to the big hole. Passing the club without halting, I lost my last hope of survival.
Near the hole we saw we were surrounded by many policeman and Germans. People trying to escape were shot at once, near me lay the first killed. The Judneltester jumped into the hole but a German pulled him back saying "you, as a Judneltester, have to see all your community being killed and we will kill you last". At that moment Lipkind charged at Komolka, hit him in the face and jumped into the hole. The German asked the Pole if he should take him out and Komolka answered: "No, there's no need, he'll be shot soon anyway".
On any account I saw two who ran away and were already far from us. A sub-machine gun opened up on them, they fell down and when the shooting stopped, one got up and recommenced running and the other lay motionless. The police shot him a few times and he died.
At that time, I was approached by Sonder-Führer Hartman and was called aside. He called also my father, my stepmother Gutte and her daughter Haya. My brother, Haim, approached Sonder-Führer Ungerman presented his shein and added that he was employed by the Germans. As an answer he received a slap in the face. He began to run towards the Jewish cemetery and I clearly saw that he succeeded in reaching it. However, there are gentiles from the town present at the killings and they told me later that my brother was killed by Gend'arm Witwizky from Gleboki who ran after him with a submachine gun.
Next to me stood Sarah Markman, our neighbor. She told the Sonder-Führer she was my wife. He did not respond and she stayed in our group. Yasin, the shoemaker, and his wife were also added to our group, but their children were to be murdered. The Sonder-Führer took us back to town. Near the hole, the Jews were massacred and were ordered to undress beforehand.
About 200 hundred meters from the hole we were put in a garage and locked in. Only now did I notice that the brothers, Zelka and Samuel and my sister, Sarah, were not with us. In my great despair I hit the guiltless Sarah Markman.
Silently, we sat awaiting our slaughter. At twilight we heard shouting from the street. Through a narrow porthole we could see another group of Jews being led towards the hole under heavy guard. The screaming and howling did not subside and after a while even grew louder. We understood that they were now being killed.
At sundown the door opened and in came Sonder - Führer Ungerman, gend'arm and S.S. men. Some of them were leading Butwinik's daughter and her husband. They gathered all the women and asked me whom they should take and whom to leave. "According to the law" - they said - they could spare the life of only one man of every profession. Father immediately answered that he was ready to die as he was an old man and I was still young. I then said: "You should know that I can only sew and cannot cut, whereas my father can cut beautifully. The Germans took council together and decided to spare us both. They took all the women with them, locked the door and were off. In dead silence we stayed seated all that night. The next day Komulka arrived in the morning and told us that we would all stay alive. We would not have to wear the yellow patch, and we would be able to roam the town in liberty. Also, we would receive living quarters but we would have to work obediently and loyally. "You will receive a horse and a wagon to transport your belongings and equipment". - He added - and left.
We returned to the ghetto. The sights there were horrible. The doors and shades were shattered. German police looking for gold roamed the streets. The closets in our house were broken, nothing left in them. Everything broken and in chaos. I knew of a hideout where we hid some valuables but did not approach it to check.
Just when we were taking our sewing machine to take it to the new place Komulka showed up. He asked why weren't we taking our personal belongings with us as well? I took some bedclothes with me but I did not need much at that point in time.
All the craftsmen were concentrated in one house. Facing us, in the yard were all the Jews found in their hideouts. They were ordered to undress and were left only in their underclothes. Later, they were taken to a big warehouse. Through our window we saw how more groups of Jews were constantly led and how the pile of cloths gradually grew. They were photographed one by one and in groups, while being beaten savagely. Many were friends and aquaintences. Barefoot and naked some of them held money or valuables which the Germans took.
So passed the second day of the "Action", us not eating a thing in over 48 hours. However we did not feel hunger. On the third day of the "Action" we saw them being taken out of the warehouse and made to run to the hole in files, one man leading the way. Less than thirty minutes later we could hear the shots echoing. They were murdered. The extermination of the Dokshitz ghetto lasted 17 days since very many hid.
For nine days we stayed in this house witnessing all the horrors taking place in our town. During all that time no food entered our mouths and all I swallowed was a little medicinal alcohol which I had remembered to take with me when I left home. I gave ten liters of this alcohol to the policeman that took me home and thanks to this alcohol my spirit did not break.
Through the days the following people were brought in to join us: Gitlin, the blacksmith; Izsche Plavnik, the carpenter; the brothers Reitman, the locksmith; Freidman, the mechanic and Joseph Gurwitch, the tailor. So were gathered twelve "expert" craftsmen and we had a woman with us, Butwinik's sister to see to our needs.
On our fifth of sixth day in the house we saw Butwinik's brother-in-law led to the warehouse. He was a refugee from Warsaw named Schimek, but I cannot recall his family name. When Butwinik saw Schimek being undressed and made to run to the warehouse he broke down and cried and with him all of us. With the tears still in our eyes we could see the policeman put on Schimek's leather coat and boots.
At the same time a nurse injected herself and her children poison in the warehouse. Her eight-year-old daughter was taken out lifeless and her son dropped dead near the hole. She, herself, it was told, did not reach the hole.
On the eighth day of the "Action" everyone was taken out of the warehouse. I saw Judek Golkowitz - probably already insane - at the head of the row. He did not understand what went on around him and was beaten cruelly in his underclothes. Among the sentenced I saw the sisters Shleifer. They were dressed only in very short night-dresses. They pulled at their dresses constantly, embarrassed. Thus, naked and embarrassed, they were led to their death.
At the end of that day Dr. Gleichenhous was brought to the warehouse. He was undressed and beaten harshly. Every now and them he would fall down and almost lifeless he was dragged to the warehouse. When Komulka heard that Gleichenhous had been caught he ordered him brought to his house and from there he was taken out thrashed and bleeding beyond recognition.
There were not very many Jews left in the town and the killings took place every two to three days. On the last day of the extermination (the 17th) a last group of Jews was caught - 20 persons. After the destruction, we came to know that this group survived, escaped from the ghetto and hid in the ruins of a Jewish house on the way to Gleboki. A shepherd boy found them and turned them into the hands of the police. Among them were: The teacher Juttkovsky and his wife, Holtz, the Koplovitch family and others. I cannot describe what they looked like when caught, after having spent seventeen days without food and in horrible fear for their lives. Some farmers also said to us that one woman, Gutte Markman, succeeded in crawling from the big pile of the murdered and in reaching one of the villages about 4 km from Wieczery. A farmer sheltered her during four days and then threw her out. Looking for new shelter, she was caught by peasants who turned her to the police.
Thus in June 1942 came to it's end the Jewish community in Dokshitz.
How strange and horrible was it that only we - a small group of Jews, were left alive continuing our work.
Organization of the Workshops
Two weeks later we were transferred to another house, in the market square, above the pub. It was a seven room apartment where workshops were organized for shoemaking, tailoring, carpentry, locksmithy, and black- smithing. The mechanics worked in town. We ate what the Germans threw to us and the blacksmiths earned a little "on the side" working for the farmers in the vicinity. We shared our food like one big family.
After some time Sonder-Führer Strothoff came to visit us, wanting to know "how we were doing". He asked how it came to be that we were left without our families. During the extermination, he said wringing his hands, he was in Germany. Was he a scoundrel or an honest man? I wouldn't know. He went on to say that everything was the fault of two people - Stalin and Hitler. "I have no need for this war" he said "I'm a judge. These two want this war but I have nothing to do with them".
After the extermination we began to think of escape. I proposed killing a visiting German, throw his body to the cellar and take his weapon. With a gun we could join the partisans. Unfortunately, I was always opposed by the mechanics. They said that since we were left alive we should not make other plans and just continue our work. Because of this opinion they were later killed.
One day a German truck stopped near the house and from it stepped out two Germans. One of them, a man by the name of Finster, came in to the workshop and ordered us to fix the truck. We were very frightened as we were never asked such a thing from an unknown German. This German, Finster, came from the Gleboki ghetto and took dairy products from the dairy in Dokshitz to Gleboki. He began questioning us about our relatives in Gleboki. We did not answer. So he put in the corner a few kilos of butter and cream and handed us a letter from Max Butwinik, the brother of the Judenrat's chairman. In his letter Butwinik made it clear to us that we should try to reach him in Gleboki. From there we could run away - we'll have the means. We understood the letter very well. As it turned out, Finster would sell weapons for gold to the Gleboki Jews.
When the German left we began discussing the idea. How would we get to Gleboki? Again we were not all of the same opinion and stayed divided for three months.
In the beginning of September 1942 a decree was made public by the commissioner of the Gleboki area that Jews could not reside outside the ghetto. The Sonder-Führer tried to object since he could not find other craftsmen but it was useless. When the second order arrived all thirteen of us were transferred to Gleboki. I was content with this fact as I believed I could get hold of a weapon there and join the partisans.
In the Gleboki ghetto
We were taken through the gate to the Judenrat. We were given a place to sleep and were left alone for a few days. Then we had to sign up for bread-cards and to go to work. From the moment I reached Gleboki I knew I was not staying and immediately began finding out how to escape.
It turned out that many young people had already escaped from this ghetto and joined the partisans in the woods. I indeed, I heard many had come back from the woods because of the weather conditions and the bands of criminals, but despite all this and despite the nagging doubts I did not give up on the idea of running from the ghetto. I began looking for contacts and ways to acquire a weapon. I managed to purchase a rifle with 14 bullets from world war I . I bought the gun from some farmers dealing in weapons in the ghetto. I prepared forged Arien documents printed in the press of the county commissioner by the Jews working there.
With the gun and documents in my hand -hidden in the cellar- I awaited the right moment. I did not tell my father about my acquisition but hinted that I would probably be leaving him soon as I did not want to end up another victim in the big beetroot hole-the killing place of the Jews and Russian P.O.W.'s.
At that time there were 8000 Jews in the Gleboki ghetto. Here were concentrated the remaining Jews from all the ghettos in the area. Despite the begging, the bribery, the flattery and the fact that the Jews filled all their requests, the everyday killings of Jews did not come to an end. The victims were taken outside the ghetto and murdered in Barok grove.
Knowing all this, I dared not come out. I came out only when it was absolutely necessary.
During the first week in this ghetto we organized the first group. From the Dokshitz community were Glazer, Plavnik and I; from Gleboki - Friedman and Swiedler. We wanted to enlarge and strengthen the group and in a short while we had 14 men. Some armed and some not (Kopelovich, Kantrovitch and Radoschkovitch). Many more asked to join us but we could not comply as they were weaponless.
Father found a bullet in my pocket. I was forced to tell him my secret and added that in the next few days I would be running from the ghetto. Father started to cry. It was impossible to take him with me because the wounds he had from the beatings in his head had not healed yet. I hoped that after I got settled in the forest and the wound healed, I'd take him to me.
Two partisans appeared in the ghetto - The brothers Friedman: one from Postov and the other from Dolginova. They gave us the address of the contact man, Yashka, who lived in the village Domislav, near the town Miadel. Moreover, they explained in which forests and where we could find the partisans from the "Avengers of the People" regiment. They, themselves, stayed in the forests in their base "The high Island" among the swamps.
Our group fof warriors decided on one of the days in the end of September at 9 o'c as the running time. We would run from the ghetto, from one of the houses near the concertines.
when I commenced parting with my father he cried and begged of me not to leave him. "If we are together at least I'll know when we're killed" he said. This way, he'd live on the rumers reaching him. He knows that I'm going to my death and not to life. It's happened before that runaways did not succeed in passing the concertine and were shot then and there. If he hears that partisans were caught, he'll be sure that I'm among them.
He cried continuously, begged and did not leave me alone that whole night. That night I slept in the ghetto in my cloths with the gun in my hand so as to not be taken by surprise in case someone informed the Germans. I decided to look for another group of partisans since I was sure my friends had left. However, in the morning I found out that they didn't want to leave without me, saying I was the only one that knew how to manage in the rear as I had already been in this situation when the war began. We posponed the escape for two more days and left the ghetto at10 o'c. I promised my father I would come back for him in a month of two. Each one took a small bundle of linen, a sweater and the cloths on his back.
We cut the fence, and one by one, took to the open field. The Gleboki train station was a big railway intersection making it difficult to cross. However, we made it and turned towrds Wolkolati.
The Road to the Partisans
After putting a few kilometers between us and the railway we decided to stock up on food supplies. We knocked on the window in one of the farmhouses, and addressed them in the German language. When they saw we were armed, they became scared and gave us all that we wanted. We left immediately and reached the forest at dawn.
We continued and after a long way knocked again on the doors of farmers. We got from them wagons and horses and that same night, reached one of the contact men, not far from Wolkolati. We hid in the barn all day long and continued at dark. The contact pointed out a forest where we could hide also during the day and even meat Partisans.
As a resting place we chose a location where we found traces of partisans - dead fires, remenents of food and clothes. In this forest we met two Jewish partisans from "The people's Avengers". Their names were: Sagalchik from Dolginova and "Zoska of Estonia" (a Jew from Estonia). They set out on orders from their regiment, which was staying on the other side of the Berezina, in the Plestchenitz area, near Minsk. They went on reconnaissance since the regiment was getting ready for fighting in the western area, and to get food. They took us with them then and we were introduced to their commander. They promised us that we would be accepted to their group as we were young, without families and armed.
On the way, we stumbled upon a group of Moscovite infiltrators made up of about 20 men. At first, we thought they were disguised policemen. Their commander was Dergatchow, an officer in the N.K.V.D. To prove they were Russian, they showed us a new submachine gun manufactured in 1942 With dawn, we all set out to the "High Island" where the whole platoon would meet.
Dergatchow presented us with a document of the "Great Earth" (Russia was so called) which showed that all armed forces operating in the Villeika area were to be under his command. Unfortunately, Dergatchow did not live up to our expectations. He turned out to be a drunkard and a bully with only pillaging on his mind.
Impatiently we awaited the arrival of the regiment. At first, only one company arrived, they were supposed to ready the camp.
When the platoon arrived we were presented to the commander, Sokolov. He liked us and was willing to let us join his men. Meanwhile, a conflict developed between him and Dergatchow. The latter refused to give us up and Sokolov threatened to take us by force. If Dergatchow did not submit, he would send his gunners and disarm his ten men. At this, Dergatchow gave up.
One by one we were taken to the headquarters and interrogated as to how we escaped.
In the regiment there were about fifty Jews, and a Jewish unit was organized with Sagalchik at it's head.
The Miadel Operation and the Freeing of the Miadel Ghetto
The October festivities nearing, the regiment decided to celebrate this date with a few military skirmishes in the Miadel area. As the first operation was planned and assault on army barracks in Miadel.
In the beginning of 1942 the whole regiment gathered for a census. Sokolov, by now appointed commandeer, spoke. He explained to his subordinates how the operation would take place. We would start out at 9 p.m. and reach our destination at midnight. Each company knew it's job and the Kazachstany, Kaliosov, second in command, headed the whole operation.
I was very tense as this was for me the first battle.
The regiment set out and the headquarters was left in the cemetery under the protection of the Markov regiment.
Our Jewish unit had the following mission: We would ambush the Germans on the Narotch stream bank. We knew the Germans planned to come to the aid of the guard from the other side of the stream.
Our commander, Sagalchik, was also a guide, as he had lived in Miadel for many years and was familiar with the area.
When we arrived everything was quiet. Suddenly shots were heard. We laid down and awaited the Germans. When we received the sign to attack we ran to the houses where the Germans and Lithuanian sharpshooters were. The battle lasted a few hours and the Germans dispersed. Some of them enclosed in a monastery and from there shot at us and others charged us, but we held them off. At dawn we were called to help the group storming the monastery where our men already had positions. When we neared the monastery which was only 200 meters from the ghetto gate, we talked to Sagalchik about freeing the ghetto. According to the plan we were supposed to take from the ghetto only men vital to us: A doctor with his equipment; medicines; the dentist Simchelevitch and others, but with Sagalchik we talked about freeing the whole ghetto.
Meanwhile we received orders to set fire to the monastery. It caught and burned all through the night, the shots not ceasing. In the tumult of he battle we slipped away and with the buts of our guns broke down the gates and into the ghetto.
Despite the shots in the ghetto, there was no one in sight. The windows were all shaded. We walked up to the first house, knocked on the window, but no one answered. Only when we addressed them in Yiddish, did the windows open. We told them what was happening in the town and said that now is their chance to run away. We explained to them where to go, where the "High Island" was and about our Jewish unit. The news traveled very quickly and about 80 people began running away. Leaving the ghetto, only one woman was hurt (now she is living in Israel). On the way a 70-year-old woman died. All the rest arrived on our base safely. The wounded were sent for treatment together with the wounded in battle.
At dawn the battle was renewed. The Germans received aid from the surrounding barracks and we began to retreat. On our way back, we were shot at by the Germans hiding on rooftops, but we managed to retreat slowly. Meanwhile, Sagalchik left us to settle an account with a farmer's wife, who informed on the Jews. She was hurt by him.
I received an order from the unit commander to charge into a house from which Germans were shooting. Storming into the yard I saw, facing me, a German with a machine gun and policemen laying next to him. I succeeded in jumping away and immediately out machine guns shot at the yard killing all the murderers. Again, I went into the yard and pulled the boots off a dead German laying in a pool of blood. This was my first sight of German blood.
Outside of the town we stopped to gather our wounded from the town streets. Morning had broken and the Germans, noticing us, shot at us continuously. The commandeer's lieutenant, fatally wounded, sat next to me. He died on the way. The German losses reached 32. The Jews of Miadel and others, having reached us in many ways, were transferred by commisar Ivan Matvelvitch Timchuk to the rear. I would like to note the friendly and humane attitude shown towards the Jews by this man. Jews would join us, constantly. However, once, when a group of Jews, about 70 women, children and elderly folk, tried to reach us with a partisan as a guide, they were found by a shepherd. He immediately notified the Germans in Dolginov. The group and it's guide, save a few, were shot to death.
The Luban Operation
A few days later we received an order to blow up an alcohol factory and to confiscate all the farm animals and pigs in Luban, near Vileika. At night we began shooting at the factory. The Germans dispersed without resistence.
We then set fire to the hospital and the buildings near it. From there we turned to the sovchoz to get the livestock. Seeing the flames, the livestock refused to budge. In spite of this we succeeded in taking from the farm 300 cows and 300 pigs. In this operation we lost not one life.
In the Gleboki Ghetto
After these operations, and after we stocked on meat and cereals for the winter our regiment moved to the other side of the Berezina, to the islands among the swamps, in the vicinity of Plestchenitz. The camp and the H.Q. of the brigade were set up here.
Our task, all winter long, was to ambush the Germans.
All this time I thought of going to the Gleboki ghetto to release my father and bring him to me. This was not an easy task since it was forbidden to operate outside our military frame. Also, Gleboki was 200 km from us and we needed to cross two railways. Despite this I managed to convince our commandeer, and we set out accompanied by maybe five friends (Glazer, Friedman, Kopelovitch, Katzowich and two others whose names escape me). This was in February 1943.
without further obstacles we arrived in Wolkolati. From our contact men we found out that from the offices of the Wolkolati council it was possible to "acquire" a typing machine, money and other thing for our brigade. Also, there was a dairy supplying dairy products to the Germans. It should be noted that partisans never operated in this area. We set to work. With axes we broke the dairy equipment, set fire to all books and documents, and destroyed the installations. When we began breaking into the council hall through the windows we were shot at. This was unexpected and so we ran away and reorganized at dawn.
We reached the ghetto a bit late. I slipped my friends through the gate near our house where my father lived. We wore white robes and on one noticed us. When we knocked on the door we frightened the household. I fell in my father's arms and that night tried to convince him and the rest to join us.
In the morning the entire ghetto knew of our presence. In the evening arrive the Judenrat representatives and the Jewish police and asked us to promptly leave the ghetto. They were willing to give everything that they had for us to leave immediately.
Our order for letters for type-setting and a printing press was filled. That whole time I spoke to my father trying to convince him to leave the ghetto. The wound in his head had not healed and I promised that he would receive the necessary medical treatment with us. Alas, he did not posses the strength to set out on this long and dangerous road. We decided that I would come again in the spring to the ghetto and then he will join me.
We took with us 16 other men, all armed. These were: Yassin - a cousin of father's, Roderman the shoemaker, Pessia Zeplovitch and others. I alone, set out with the 16 men. The rest stayed behind to recruit more men.
On foot we reached the first huts, where we confiscated wagons and horses and we were quickly on the "High Island" awaiting the rest of the men from the Gleboki ghetto. A few days later five men arrived and we headed to the brigade.
Here are some episodes that are engraved in my memory: Among the new men who joined us was a boy named Weinstien. When he just arrived he was told to guard a spy from Villeika, a Russian clerk. He was to stand guard from midnight to 2 a.m. I warned him not to fall asleep but despite my warning he slept like a log and the spy escaped. After and alarm, the spy was caught but Weinstien was sentenced to death. He was tried at absence. The verdict was carried out, but became common knowledge only afterwards.
On the way to the Zazorna village - as if he were taken to a trial - he was shot. He was a 17-year-old boy and had just arrived from the ghetto. This made a horrifying impression on all the Jews.
After Lederman's two sons,Motel and Yerucham, escaped from the ghetto, the Germans badgered him as Judneltester and accused him of having contact with partisans. They advised him to have his sons return or they will kill many Jews in the ghetto.
At that time some Jewish partisans - brothers Lederman, Friedman of Dolginova and Yerachmiel convinced Sagalchik to send people to the ghetto in order to enlist more Jews. They left from Yezurna, where the regiment was stationed. This was a month after Weinstien was killed. They were delayed at Yashka,the contact man's place, and as it turned out Gordon arrived there from ghetto Gleboki with a letter from Lederman to his two sons. Gordon gave the letter and went back to the ghetto. Partisans went to the ghetto two days later.
A week went by and the regiment received no news from them. The contact with them was broken. After a week the bodies of Yerachmiel and Friedman were found on the way to Gleboki and the Ledermans were in the ghetto. They were let into the ghetto after handing their weapons to the Germans. Despite this, the Germans arrested them after ten days. During the arrest shots were let off and Yerucham, the older, was killed. The younger managed to escape after killing a few Germans. He ran to join some partisans. Not to us of course, but to the Polotzk area. Judneltester Lederman was also arrested and led to Minsk where he was killed.
As our reconnaisance figured, Friedman and Yerachmiel were killed by the brothers Lederman on the way to the ghetto. It is a fact that their boots and leather jackets were still on them and there weren't mutilated as would have been German victims.
The Transfer to the Naliboki Forests
After these happening we returned in February to the other side of the Brezina. There we received an order to mobilize toward the Naliboki forests. The entire brigade set out right away in winter wagons and on horses to it's destination. We traversed fifty kilometers every night. We crossed the railway, 5 kms long, in broad day light under the eye of the Germans who dared not attack us.
A few days later we reached the Naliboki forests. Here we met other Jewish partisans from Bailski's regiment. We also saw a family camp made up only of Jews. We were cheered up seeing another Jewish unit in the famous regiment in Bailorussia.
We made camp in the towns near the forests. I made the house of Graff Tishkevitch my base, while the camp was built in the forest. These were non-comouflaged clay huts. A big force of partisans was stationed in the forest, but before we could get settled, we received an order to return to Polik. We left the camp leaving some of our men to help construct a new brigade. Among those who stayed behind were Glazer, Ziskind and others.
As time went by they reached responsible and honored positions in the brigade. Glazer was made "Natchalnik" in the special division, but because of friction with the H.Q. he was killed under vague circumstances.
Back to the Old Base
On our way back we stumbled upon a group of Polish warriors from the A.K. (Armia Kraiova). Crossing a stream not far from Lida, our scouts were seen by an unknown group of partisans. The strangers immediately shot the horses of our scouts to prevent them from running away. However, we heard shooting and hurried to help them. A skirmish ensued where both side suffered losses. We then offered a cease-fire and each group went on it's way. In spring 1943, the entire brigade moved to the Pleshtchenitz area. A hospital was set up without equipment, tools, medicines or bandages. The brigade's head doctor, Shtshaglov, was named general director of the hospital. He was a Jew who ran from the Minsk ghetto in 1942.
With him escaped the Jewish writer, Dubin (to him I told of my experiences in the Dokshitz ghetto and he put them on paper), Gurewitch, Tonik and others. The commander of our Jewish unit, Sagalchik, was named administrative director, and I was in charge of equipment. The cook was Susman, a woman from the Dokshitz ghetto.
The hospital was situated in the Pleshtchenitz area, between two villages: Hodaki and Lesniki.
At first there were not many wounded, but at summer, with more military operations, the number rose.
In May 1943 the Germans began combing the forest intensively. We had to retreat to the East, to Polic - an island in the midst of a 100 km of swamps and dense forests. The island could be reached by boat only, and this made transportation very difficult. Then we found out the Germans besieged us. 10000 partisans were under this siege. The brigade deserted the island hospital and decided to break through from it's side. A special German force was concentrated east of Polik.
The Germans posted guards in all the villages in the Minsk area and from Miadel to Polozk. Retreating, the partisans found themselves under fire, many were wounded and the siege became tighter around us. All along the roads and railways there were Germans posted. Cut off from the world we continued working in the hospital giving aid to the injured who were brought to us in the boats.
Once, we received a man seriously wounded in the leg. He was a partisan and had stepped on a mine. His leg was bandaged in a sheet and during the three days that it took to bring him to us, no medical aid was given to him. When the wound was opened, we saw that he had blood poisoning.
Dr. Samuel Shtshegolov decided to amputate the leg, but had no equipment or anesthetic. I was sent to the hospital of the nearest brigade, not far from Polik, to obtain the necessary tools. The saw I brought was not good for the surgery. Nevertheless, time was running short. Sending the patient through the fire line to a hospital was not feasible due to the blockade. The Doctor decided to sterilize a regular saw in fire.
The patient was put on a table, two men held his hands and head; and his leg was held by me and another man. The doctor cut the skin off the leg and sawed it. This was the first time I attended such a barbaric amputation. The patient screamed and cried that he was being tortured. The operation lasted a half hour. afterwards he was put in a tent and he slept. He was soon well and survived.
Some days later, the partisans broke the siege and we were forced to leave Polik. The moderately wounded were sent back to the brigade, while six of the gravely injured (the amputee among them) were carried by us. The wounded groaned and were a burden. Transferring them, we lost two to three hours. When the last of the injured, a partisan, and I left, we were 50 meters from Polik, and the Germans had just arrived there. We had to sleep in the swamps. I was so close to the Germans that I could overhear their conversations. An injured, with bullet holes in his lungs groaned all night. The next day we somehow transferred him to the hospital on the island.
A few days later the siege was finally broken and we remained on the island until the wounded were well again. The hospital was transferred to Zadorna village, in the Plestchenitz area, not far from the brigade's H.Q. It was given the name: "The people's avengers brigade in the name of Voronietzki"
Revenge of the Jewish Partisans
During an entire year - from the summer of 1943 to the summer of 1944 - we stayed in the village with the hospital. Once in a while, we would follow the brigade to battle, but our main duty until the arrival of the Red-Army soldiers, was to supply the hospital with foodstuffs and guard it from the enemy. However, we did not, for one minute forget our obligation to avenge the tortures and murders of our relatives.
In the fall of 1943, Sagalchik, Friedman, two Russians and I went out to obtain foods and decided to penetrate Protniki village, near Krivichi,where Germans were stationed. In this village resided a family by the name of Kamaiko. We had heard that the sons of this family would dig in the Jewish graves and take the gold teeth from the Jewish cadavers.
On the 11th we reached Protnik village. We left the wagons not far from the village and after finding out where Kamaiko's house was, we broke in. The house was full of Jewish furniture, crystal utensils, money and other articles from the houses of murdered Jews. First we gathered all that we needed. This was not difficult as everything was there for us to see. Never had partisans reached this village because of it's proximity to the German barracks at Krivichi.
After taking the things and beating them, we broke their arms and teeth. We had no permission to shoot them without a verdict from the specialized department. We left feeling we had avenged our people a bit. Later we found out one of them died and the rest stayed in the hospital for a long time.
In the winter of 1944, this unit, made up of 12 men, set out again to obtain foodstuffs. This time we decided to avenge the Dolginov Jews. We decided to take a risk, enter the town, and reach the Jewish cemetery where a Christian family that helped exterminate the Dolginov ghetto, resided. The name of the gentile escapes me. One of the family worked for the "polizei". Sagalchik hit him in the head until blood spurted out. Meanwhile, the unit took the pigs and the cow. Then, we drove two men only in their underclothes out to the freezing cold. We ordered them to set out on the way we would take back. At that moment the Germans noticed us and opened fire from sub-machine guns. They probably thought we were a large force. Luckily, they chose a defensive strategy, remembering the times they were hit by the partisans.
We began running with our two prisoners. Five km from Dolginov we ordered them off the road. They understood that they were to be shot and tried to run away. Our bullets were quicker. Two days past before the Germans took them.
This action was, in fact, illegal, as the Dolginov area belonged to the special department of the Kutusov brigade. We were not permitted to operate there. There was a very strict rule saying one brigade could not operate in the area of another. Death was the punishment for breaking this rule. However, since a headquarters unit took part in this skirmish, we managed to conceal the matter.
The Second Siege
In spring 1944 the front lines reached Witbesk, 200 km from our base. The Germans knew they would have no choice but to retreat, and so wanted to "clean up" the rear and empty it of partisans. In order to do this they took 6 to 7 divisions out of the Witbesk lines. First they tried to besiege Navel Veliki-Luki, but were beaten. The Germans, running away, began putting pressure on us. From the other side, the western, from Molodechna, we were also charged. Now we were in "tweesers' from both sides.
Following the brigade, which went out to battle many times, we were forced to retreat from the Zadorani village. With the brigade we reached the Tzana village, near Bogomil. Here, the brigade took to the west, deserting the hospital. A few men, wounded and Typhoid-stricken, set out in 60 wagons in an unknown area, towards Polik, in the hope that they would survive the siege.
I walked at the side of the transport all night long, not keeping up with the team in the front, and caught up with them in the morning.
The Germans again posted guards in the nearby villages, setting fire to all communities suspected of sheltering partisans. This action was a heavy burden to us. The population ran to the forests a hunger spread in the area. Unable to feed the sick, we sent the healing back to the brigade.
The situation worsened in July when the siege tightened. Seventeen days went by without food or help for our wounded on the island near Polick, where the Germans were stationed. We could hear their voices.
In the night we heard the sounds of artillery, telling us the Red-Army began it's attack. Bombs fell on Polick where there was a German camp. During the whole second siege we were ready for the Germans to find us. The wounded were hidden among the swamps. We kept them alive with the little food that we had. We had a ready - made plan in case the Germans found us.
Once, we heard explosions from the west. We sent scouts that came back to tell us the Russians were nearing. I then decided to go together with Sagalchik to Polick, where we hid some supplies. When we arrived, it seemed no one was there. We shot a few times and were duly answered... The Germans opened fire, but from the other side of the Berezina. We took the supplies from the hiding place and headed towards the island. A couple of days later the hospital was transferred to Polick.
In July 1944 the Red-Army arrived. The wounded were transferred to the sanitary department, the partisans received orders to report in Minsk, for a partisan parade. There, we met our brigade. We took part in the parade where 25 brigades marched.
In Minsk our brigade was dismantled, and most were sent to the front. I was sent to Dokshitz,to the militia, to organize the local authorities. Dokshitz was burnt and destroyed. The center of the area authorities was moved to Parafianow, 10 km from Dokshitz. Two Jewish families returned to Dokshitz: Kramer and Shapira. Most of the time I stayed in Parafianow and did not visit Dokshitz, where my relatives died. My father was killed during the extermination of the Gleboki ghetto. Except for my brother Jacob, who ran to Russia, no one was left of my family.
After the war I moved to Vilna. I married Lucia Kaminkovitch from Dokshitz. Her mother, Zina and her sister Sarah were killed by the Nazis before my eyes.
In 1957 I returned to Poland, as I was told that Poland agreed to let it's Jews make "Aliya". I stayed in Poland a year and eight months and on November 4th 1958 I arrived in Israel.
All that was told here is but a small part of the experiences that I and the others went through in the Dokshitz ghetto and with the partisans. A more detailed description would call for an entire book and I am in no state to do this. Until this day these memories haunt me and cause me pain.
All I have put to paper is but a small monument in memory of the martyrs, together with the monument built in Dokshitz. Today the place is used to heard cattle, and no trace is left of the horrors that occurred...
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