On the road from Myadel to Niviyeri
Stalyuk's wife returned home riding on a black horse, carrying two girls dressed in farmers' clothing. It was my daughter, who was now 18 months old, and the daughter of my brother-in-law, Natashka Istrin, who was five years old. I couldn't wait to take my daughter in my arms and hug her. When we went in the house she told me how lucky she was to be able to take the girls and not be seen. She also gave me a letter from my brother-in-law, Zelig Istrin, that at 10 p.m. he would bring out all the Jews of Old Myadel.
At 10 pm I left with Mitzia Friedman to welcome the escapees. It was a dark and rainy night, and there was a non-stop storm. After getting halfway, we heard loud sounds of people walking and yelled out the name of my brother-in-law Zelig, who I knew would be at the front of the line. Immediately the line stopped and once again I yelled, and when he recognized my voice he ran to me with the rest of them behind him. I hugged my brother-in-law and then we took the entire procession to Niviyeri. Shortly we were in the village, and only now do I realize what a huge mission I took upon myself. All together we had 144 people, mostly old and children. The young men and women didn't survive. I divided them into three groups, one group of 50 I would take east with me immediately. I would temporarily leave the second group in the marshlands between Nayivery and Dumosalvia, in granaries. The rest of the people would be divided for a few days among the loyal farmers, and then the Estonczik would take them east later on.
At a late night hour I left with my group toward the forest of Malinovka and Hodaki. Two days after, all the groups who came with me were added to a group of 150 people that the partisans were taking east, past the front and into Soviet territory. I decided to leave my little girl with me, and I gave her to a farmer by the name of Olga Samonik, from the village Bobrova. The group that left with the Estonczik faced a terrible tragedy. I don't know exactly what happened. Was it a bad judgment by the partisans who took them? But after two days of walking, the procession crossed the river Vilya near the villages Kamyin and Bakonik and decided to rest during daytime, without posting a lookout. Near them was a Polish shepherd with his flock by the name of Jan Ruzayetski, from the village Kamyin. When he realized who they were, he immediately went on his horse to Dolhinov and brought with him the Germans and the police. After a short time, they arrived while the group was sleeping. They opened fire, and only a small number from that group survived. Many old people and children perished.
A few days passed and I found out that the atriad was organizing demolition teams for sabotage missions in the area. I demanded to be a part of it. The commissar smiled when he heard me and immediately agreed to let me take part. Once again he asked me to choose three other fighters, so I took the Estonczik, Kolke Doroshniko, and Mikhail Yitzhak Friedman. On the evening of October 17, 1942, we arrived by the train tracks between Parafianow and Krolevshtchizna, near the village Paraplishtz. At ten, Doroshniko and I approached the train tracks. In minutes we placed a large amount of explosives on the right side of the track. We returned to our position 50 meters away, with the detonator and waited for the train. We heard it coming. When it came near we saw the little light from the first car, and immediately we pulled on the rope (?) and ran. We heard a huge explosion. We ran for 5 km, running until we arrived at a village where we went to sleep. We couldn't wait to hear what had happened. We sent one of the villagers to see the results of our work, and he came back to tell us that there had been a huge amount of destruction and that many Germans were killed and wounded. The effect, it seems, was tremendous: not only had we killed many Germans and damaged or destroyed much equipment, but railway traffic had also stopped for fourteen hours.
The twenty-eighth of October was a happy day. Our atriad moved from the Roskovsky forest to near Niviyeri. We put our base near Karikriznovka, on an island that was known by the villagers as Viyaski Ostrov. I, with my three friends, along with a group who came from Groboki, settled in the marsh area into granaries. There were about 10 others from Dolhinov, others went east, but I was very happy to meet with them.
On the evening of October 31st, 1942, I was called to the headquarters of the atriad when I arrived I found all the commanding officers there. I was asked to sit. Sokholov let me know that a decision was made that part of the atriad would become a national unit that would consist entirely of Jews, and that I would head that unit. We were given ten rifles. We already had five at that point, and also three that needed repairs that had come from Globok. From this point I walked very fast, as if I had extra energy from somewhere. Immediately I made a list and gathered eighteen people and marched them over to headquarters. The commanding officers called the names of each one of the troops and immediately they stood at attention and received their rifles. They added ten other veteran fighters. All of us were extremely excited and I swore to myself that my unit would be a symbol and example of loyal fighters for all Soviet partisans.
I returned to the headquarters and Sokholov, the commander of Nardony Mastitya, let us know about a big operation that the entire atriad, with the addition of the new atriad which was headed by Markov, who was still inexperienced but had a large amount of ammunition and troops. We were told that the next day, on November 1 at four in the morning, the entire atriad would attack the Germans near Myadel. Troop A, headed by Sashka from Rozkov, and guided by me, would enter Myadel secretly through the Niviolsky Cemetery. We were to quietly capture the German bunker there and incapacitate the Germans there. From there we had to go to the gendarme and police station in a two story house, and there secretly and without having anyone discover us, we must wait for Troop B, which would open fire on the Lithuanian troops who were located in the two-story home of Alperovicz.
The first part of my mission was to transport the three Troops of Company A inside the town and try to control the guards without making any sounds. The town was very quiet, as if everyone was asleep. We didn't even hear a dog. Our forces went to the locations, we yelled at the gendarmes and the policemen, You are surrounded, fascists! Give up! Immediately they started shooting with every weapon they had. I saw an armed German coming toward us, then Dantzov and I shot him. We kept waiting, but others didn't come. All of a sudden, a messenger came and told us that the commandant of the atriad said that the third troop must temporarily leave the area. We must take anything that could be used for burning and go immediately to the house where the police and the gendarmes were staying, while the other two units covered us. We were to ignite all the houses in the surrounding area, which would then force the Germans to get out of there.
I made a quick decision that we didn't need the entire troop for this mission. I sent Mikhail Yitzhak Friedman and a few men to a nearby field where they could find bales of hale to transfer to the area around the house, and then burn all the nearby houses. It took only 15 minutes and the houses started burning. All of a sudden, I saw that at the top of the church, the Germans were shooting at the people who were collecting the hay. I commanded my unit to open fire on the church tower. I then took Biyanish Kuzinich and another three fighters to put some bales of hay by the church tower to burn it. Then we entered the outpatient clinic of the municipal hospital that was used only by the Germans. We took a large supply of medicine, first aid supplies and dentistry supplies, and then we lit the place on fire.
All the houses around the police station were now on fire, as well as the church and its tower. All of the units now set up positions surrounding the enemy, waiting for them to escape the burning area. Shortly they started running out and we shot them.
Still, the mission was not a complete success. We couldn't come near the Gestapo's Lithuanian and Latvian volunteers since there was constant, heavy fire in their area. Their situation made it more difficult to get to them, for they were in a building that was built out of cinder blocks and the roof was made out of tile. The building contained 125 killers that had the best weapons. They shot at us from every window, and even from the basement. There was one attempt by Company B to get near the house and throw grenades, but it was a failure and immediately three partisans died from enemy fire. For two hours we tried, but we couldn't do it any longer since they were able to notify a unit in Postov that had armored vehicles. At around ten in the morning we could hear the sounds of their vehicles.
Markov's atriad was waiting for the enemy 10 km from Myadel, so the first tank was destroyed by the atriad, but the force was too big, and we knew we must leave immediately. Sokholov announced a retreat of all our forces, but without panic. Although we had to leave five of our troops who were killed since there was no time to take them off the battlefield. The minute I heard the order to pull back, I asked Mikhail Yitzhak Friedman what would happen to the Jews who were still left in the ghetto. He said from what he knew there were still about 86 people, 15 or 16 families, whom the Germans used as specialists. They were made to work for them in jobs like feeding the chickens, cleaning the horses, and other jobs. I knew that they had a death sentence hanging over them. Amongst them was my sister-in-law Shosha Hadash and her five children, whose husband was killed among the 22 young people killed in the first month of the war. I decided to try to save them. I didn't ask for anyone's permission, but I took my two friends, Mitzia and Bianish Kuzinitz, and immediately we ran to the ghetto.
When we arrived we realized that the barbed wire surrounding the ghetto and the fence was not cut, so we knew there must still be some Jews in the area. We broke the barbed wire and the fences with our rifles and jumped inside. Immediately I ran to the window that was covered with sheets, and with my rifle I knocked it in and yelled, What are you standing here for? Do you wish to die without trying to save yourself? Pretty soon they'll come here and slaughter you like sheep!
I looked inside and saw on the floor many people were lying down. Some were known to me, some were unknown. Get up! Run for your lives! I yelled. Immediately run to the marshes of Yarmuling, to the Cemetery of Nivisolaiki.
When they heard my shout they started running and escaping. The same as I did, some others did at homes nearby. So this is the way the battle ended. From our side there were five dead from Company B. Amongst them was one Jew from Minsk by the name of Kissel. We also had 13 wounded. The enemy had 33 killed and many wounded. Also there were many (an unknown number) who were killed among the Germans coming from Postov. I felt particularly happy about the 90 Jews that we had gotten out of the ghetto. I was sure that if we hadn't gotten them out they would have all been killed. Some of these Jews could join the partisans too.
During the retreat I passed by a house where a woman who we called Litovka lived. She was half Polish, half Lithuanian. This house was home to one of the cruelest families. The day the 22 young men were killed, she ran all over the streets yelling, Now the day of revenge on the Jews has come! Let's kill them all so they won't contaminate the town! I couldn't let it go. I turned back to her house, feeling waves of anger invading my body, preventing me from following the order to immediately retreat. I yelled to open the door and she opened it. I shot her immediately. She fell at the entrance of the house, dropping in a huge puddle of blood. But she was a lucky bitch and she survived. She was respected and adored by the Germans: they took her on an ambulance to Vilna where she had an operation to take the bullet out of her limbs.
The next day, all the officers gathered. Koznitzov, the commissar of the atriad (the politruk), read the order of the day which expressed the deep thanks to all the fighters that did such a great job during the battle. Among the first to get special respect was my troop, and I received a medal, The Red Banner (Flag?) medal. After the war I received it, signed by the head of the Russian Partisans, A. Golky. On the fourth of March, 1942, #982516.
The need to get revenge on all the killers without uniforms who were running free, people who were our neighbors in yesteryear then who later became our killers, could not let go of me. So I used every free day I had to get revenge. First, I asked the commissar to let me find the killers in the village Kamyin. The commissar said, If we will spend this time taking revenge, we will have to punish about 90% of the population for collaborating with the enemy on the killings. You can go to Kamyin and bring Jan Ruzietski here, but you must not kill him. All I will allow you to do is to beat them up so they will remember that they must respect human beings. I understood his message.
I took with me ten fighters, and we arrived at Kamyin around midnight, but when we knocked on the door of Ruzietski's house, only an old woman was there. I found out that now he was not sleeping here, that he usually slept in Dolhinov. So instead we went to the Novtisky families. They were the people who took the clothes off the dead people they found in Myadel. When they opened the door we ordered them to put lights on and to return everything that they took off the dead Jewish bodies. At first they denied everything, but after we beat them, they started returning things. They brought from the storage place behind the oven clothes that were stained with blood, boots of little children, dresses of women. So we started beating them harder and harder. Three of them we found out later died from the wounds.
A few weeks later, we got revenge on the killer in the village of Dubricka by the name Ignolia. His crime was that in the summer of 1942 he encountered a young Jewish woman from Dolhinov by the name of Reza Musia Schmerkovicz. She had escaped from the ghetto, and when he caught her he beat her up, stole her money, tied her up and tortured her. Then he took her to Dolhinov and gave her to the Germans and the policemen who continued torturing her until she died. We knew also that his daughter had taken part in the robbery and the transfer of the Jews to killers. In February of 1943 we knocked on the door of the killer and again an old woman opened the door and told us that he was sick. I told her that we had a doctor with us who would cure any illness, and showed her David Glasser, who looked like a Red Army commissar. Ignolia was leaning on the oven with his head covered by a wet towel. I ordered him to get up, but he said he was sick with typhus and could not get up. Menashe Kaye and I pulled him by his hair and David Glasser started counting while we beat him with rubber bats while I explained to him why were giving to him this punishment. The next day we found out that 25 policemen in seven cars came and took the killer and his daughter to the hospital in Dolhinov but Ignolia died a day later.
In the middle of March, 1943, I was appointed as the commander of the medical unit, not far from the village Lishinski. In a large house there they had established a sort of hospital to take care of the wounded and sick people from the brigade. Dr. Sigelov, a Jew from Minsk, was the medical director and his helper was Kotler, a Jew who had been able to escape from Dolhinov. I was given 12 partisans with weapons and we had to take care of every need of the wounded, from clothes to food to medical supplies.
Everything went fine until May 15, 1943. On that day, we found out that a large force of the enemy was concentrating in Dolhinov and Kriviczi. All day long new forces arrived in the area. Amongst them were also Ukrainian traitors and Vlassoviches (troops headed by General Vlassov, who betrayed the Soviet Union and took all his troops in the first month of the war in 1942 and joined the Germans). This entire huge army was sent to take care of the partisans. So on the 19th of May, 1943, the fight against the partisans from Minsk to Smolensk to Vilejka, Dolhinov, Kriviczi and Disna and other places began. We fought fearlessly but finally had to retreat to the marsh area between Bihimvol and Borisov and Poloczek. So now there were 16 partisan brigades in the area of Palik and Domzherevicz until June of 1943. Once again we had a problem of collecting supplies for such a big force.
Before the retreat, on the 21st of May, 1943, we started pulling back with the hospital from the forest of Lishinski to the area of Palik. Every day new wounded troops were added. Our brigade, Nardony Mastitya, took defensive positions on the 31st of May on the left bank of the river Brazina. The hospital unit with all the wounded was situated on an island surrounded by the marsh. This was a very convenient place since it was almost impossible to get here, but once again there was a problem of food. We had a very small supply, only about 30 kilos of beans and about 20 kilos of dry bread.
On the evening of June 1, 1943, we knew that we had to leave. The Germans were coming closer and we couldn't stop them. We decided to divide the wounded and the watchers into three groups. The severely wounded had to be left in the area, underground with Dr. Sigolov. The second group of lightly wounded were taken to another island with Dr. Kotler taking care of them. The third group consisted of the very lightly wounded men who could still walk, and the rest of the troop that was watching them, went with me to the deepest of the marshlands. So with me I had ten wounded people who could walk, and a few others, non-combatant partisans, amongst them my friend Mindel, Leib Schreibman, and Leib and Israel Rodoshkovicz, and the niece Nehama, a refugee from Sharko Lish Sitzna. Also coming with us were the two women who worked in the kitchen, Dora Sussman and Sila Solovyechik. We took with us some of the beans and dry bread and went on our way.
After a short time we didn't know exactly where we were. We went inside the marsh without a compass or a map, and with barely enough food. The enemy shot from all directions, and we were standing deep in water. We walked to one direction and if we heard shots from there we went in another direction. We heard shooting in every diretion, and like this we walked for 19 days.
By the fourth day we were practically starving. On the fifth day we came to an island where there was a lot of grass. So we devoured the grass (which was very bitter) but it still it didn't stop the hunger. We forced ourselves to continue walking. Finally, on the 19th of June, 1943, all the shooting stopped and with help I climbed on a tree to see if we could see any signs of human life, maybe some smoke. However, I was so weak that I fell on the ground. Minutes later I said to everyone, We must continue. Although we don't know where we should go, if we stay still we will die of starvation.
I took a stick to lean on and with all my might I started walking, and everyone followed behind me. I decided to go where I thought was southeast. I knew from memory that the river Berzinov was nearby. We passed the entire day of June 20 like that, and we still didn't find the river. There was a total quietness in the swamp. It was as if it was a huge, never-ending cemetery. In the evening we arrived at a very muddy forest, and I thought it must be near the Berezino River. We sat on the ground and lit a fire and took some dirty water, boiled it, drank it, and then slept.
Finally, on June 25th, 1943, we came to the area between Lashniki and Kraznow to the base. We found out that our old hospital in the forest had been burned by the Germans along with all of the atriad's other buildings. So now we started building everything anew and gathering all the wounded. We found that everyone had survived in spite of the starvation. Everyone in the units of Dr. Sigelov and Dr. Kotler were fine, a few even recovered and went back to fighting. Now I was busy with taking care of the wounded. The entire brigade suffered few losses during that bitter battle in the area of Palik. When they came back I found out that on June 4, 1943, on the third day of the blockade they managed to break out of the ring of surrounding Germans and they only suffered a few wounded who were sent to me.
Now that I was the head of the hospital unit, I was pretty much in control and I could do whatever I wished, so I decided to take revenge on more of the killers. First on my mind was once again Jan Ruzetski in the village Kamyin. We found out from the villagers that he could usually be found in his aunt's house in Kamyunka. Early in the morning we found him at home. When we got to the house his aunt was awake and there was a young man, about 20 years old, who was sleeping. I asked the woman who he was, and she said it was her son. I told her that if that was her son, she would be punished too. She started crying and said that he was not her son, that he was the nephew of her husband. She said that he was afraid to stay in his village so he slept in her house. I took a rope and tied his hands behind his back and took him to a villager in Bakunin and asked him if he knew if this was the guy who called the Germans from Dolhinov. He and everyone else in the area said that this was the one, so now that we had no doubt, I said to him, You can choose your death. If you will confess immediately we will shoot you. If not, we will cut your flesh off. He kept quiet, so we took him to the river, to the place where the Myadel survivors were killed. I gave an order to tie his legs and open his hands which were blackened by the rope. We threw the other side of the rope on the top of a pine tree and pulled it up. So now he was tied to the tree upside down. We collected some of the torn pieces of clothing taken from the Jews killed because of him that we were still able to find in the area. We gathered some dry sticks lit them on fire. In a few minutes, he turned into a flaming torch. He was burned next to his victims' graveyard. We stuck a document to the burnt pine tree that said, Revenge of the People.
A few days later we visited the village Parodnik near Kriviczi. This was the first visit of partisans in the area. Until then, all partisans had avoided the area because Kriviczi, which was only 1 km away, had a big force of Germans and their helpers. After they killed all the Jews in the shtetl, they used the village as a road to get to the train station at Kanihanin.
Despite the danger we decided we must take care of the killers, the brothers Mamek Skorot (or Mamek and Skorot?). Avraham Friedman, Bianish Kuzenitz. Zanka Muhammad, and Dinka Treykovski went with me. We came to the first house of the village, Auf machen! (?) I yelled. Immediately the door opened and they turned on the light. We ordered them to close the drapes. First we demanded that he return the gold teeth of Hana Katzowitz, which we knew he took out of her body with pliers. They tried to deny it, but we kept beating them. We only beat the two men; the women and children we left alone.
The killers opened graves, amongst them Hana's, the widow of Ishaiau Katzowitz and also the sister-in-law of Rabbi Malkiel Paretzi (the last rabbi of Kriviczi) who was annihilated with the rest of the community in 1942. The brothers opened the graves of her and her children. We received this information from Herzl Rodoshkovicz and Aron Shulman from Kriviczi who were also partisans with the brigade of Kirov.
Now we had to find the killers of the Jews of Dolhinov: Mikhail Proclowicz and the evil brothers Tarahovitz; men who showed no mercy, not even to children. We first had to do some investigating about how we could go to Dolhinov and when and where we could find the killers. Varovka, a villager who hated those killers, found out that Proclowicz had returned to his ranch in Dolhinov. Originally he was too scared to stay there, but after a year had passed and no one had come to repay his evil deeds, he assumed that even the Jewish partisans had forgotten him. Since neither his house nor his family members suffered any consequences, he returned to his home after a year of wandering.
One clear and cold night in December of 1943, Gershon Yafeh and Biyanish Kuzinitz and Dimka Traikovsky went with me on a sled. As we knocked on his window he opened his door dressed in a fur coat and boots. Immediately we ordered him to go inside with his hands up. We turned on lights, and when he recognized us he started shaking. He begged us not to shoot him, but he saw that his death was coming. I asked him how many Jews had he killed and where were all the possessions that he had stolen from his victims. I ordered him to return everything, saying, If you will return all that we want, we won't kill you. We'll just beat you up.
He called his wife and told her to return all the possessions from the hideout, which he'd buried in a deep hole in the ground, which was covered with snow. We sent one of our men with her to check on it, and we found a large amount of robbed possessions about a hundred meters from the house. I became furious. I yelled, Confess and tell us how many Jews you killed! How many mothers asked for mercy for their babies? I started cursing at him violently and uncontrollably. I was crazed. You must take responsibility and die the death due to an evil and wretched person. I shot him in his head and he dropped dead.
Now it came to the most important mission, the hunt for the biggest murderers, the brothers Tarhovitz. I had a personal vendetta against them. The blood of my mother was on their hands. They took part in her killing and this is how it happened: the day after we raided Dolhinov in 1942, my mother with the two daughters of Katzowitz, Gashka and Nyakha, escaped from the Ghetto and walked in the direction Pogost to the forest where we had our base. The two brothers, together with the head of the police, found out and chased them on bicycles and were able to find them. They returned them to town while beating them and torturing them along the way. After hours of this torture, they were taken near the Jewish cemetery and were shot.
That was not the only murder that they committed with their own hands. They killed many before and after this incident. I saw with my own eyes how they chased the family of Shimshel, the family of Shalom Dukshitzi, and Nehama Leviczi's with her children and other relatives. They were tortured and beaten and I will never forget it. But how could we reach them? They lived at the very edge of Dolhinov and to reach them you had to go through the entire town, next to an old stone fortress that was garrisoned by German troops. Like an angry dragon it spit out fire at all who came near it, and we did our best to avoid it.
Finally I found an opportunity. In the middle of February of 1944 I was called to headquarters. Yoskov, an officer at headquarters asked me to get food and other supplies to the headquarters since they were waiting for very important people to arrive and they had nothing to feed them. It was a difficult time at that point to achieve such things, but after thinking for a minute I said to Yoskov, There's only one complicated way I can think of for achieving this mission. Since there is no food in such amounts near our base, we cannot do it in one night, but we what we can do is go to Dolhinov and we can surely find food there. But I must have a group of fourteen to sixteen fighters. I can take four from my hospital unit, so I'll need ten to twelve fighters from headquarters. With such a force we can overwhelm them and bring back a large amount of supplies.
The idea pleased him so he gave me permission. He assigned 12 well-armed men headed by Major Tzonkov to go along with me and four from my unit, and left for Dolhinov at six that evening with four sleds harnessed to fast horses. Around 10 in the evening we arrived in the outskirts of Dolhinov. After a short visit with Varovka to gather infomation about the town, we left. At 11 at night we arrived near the large home of the Taharovitz brothers. We put two snipers facing the center of the town to cover us, and immediately we went to work. We ordered them to open up the door, turn on the lights, and to pull down the drapes. Then we made them open up the cowshed and horse stables, which were tightly shut with heavy iron bars. I ordered six of the troops with me to take all the livestock out of the cowshed and stable and to herd them in the direction of the forest. Four men took on the sled all the possessions in the house. It took us half an hour to complete the job, which included four cows and six first-class horses. In the sled we gathered bread, lard, flour, salt, kidneys, beans, and also pillows, blankets, sheets, which had all been robbed from Jewish homes. Before we left, I ordered the Taharovicz brothers to go outside. They were dressed only in their underwear and barefoot, and just as they ordered their victims during the slaughter to run, I made them run in the freezing winter night.
After we left, about half a kilometer from town, a steady stream of fire from the fortress came upon us. They shot at us with automatic weapons, but it was harmless fire. It couldn't reach us since they had no idea where we were headed. They only heard from the wives of the killers that we were most likely heading to Pogost. So without much thinking, I ordered everyone to go on a side road. Immediately we shot the two killers dead. We sat in our sleds and after shooting in the direction of the enemy, we ran away to headquarters. So like this I revenged the blood of my mother and many other Jews who were killed by those evil and cruel men.
When we returned to headquarters, they were very happy to see the food and the supplies and I was assuming that all was well and like that I returned to the hospital. However, the next day early in the morning I was ordered to come to the headquarters of the brigade. When I entered the ComBrig, the head of the brigade, Pokrovski, and Misonov, commander of another brigade that was responsible for the area around Kriviczi and Dolhinov was also there. Immediately I saw they were looking at me in a way very different way than they had yesterday, and I realized that Misonov came here only for me. I jumped to stand at attention and saluted, and announced that the commander of the hospital unit was present as ordered.
Who gave you the permission to shoot two citizens, peaceful residents? Asked the leader of Nardony Mastitya.
"No one gave me permission, I said. Then, after thinking for a while I added, My conscience and my need for revenge gave me liberty to do that. I only did what was my duty, which was to get revenge for my murdered mother and my people who fell at the hands of those two cruel, evil murderers who you called peaceful citizens. They killed my mother, my sister and Jewish brothers. They were wading elbow-deep in the blood of Jews. I had to do it, and I did it as a loyal son to my mother and my nation.
He called his assistant, Kanzow and ordered him to take my weapon and put me in a prison cell until the investigation ended. Stoically, I gave my pistol and under guard I was taken to a prison cell. In the dark mud house, where three other partisans were held prisoner, my heart was aching, but I felt complete with all that I had done. I thought to myself, Even if they decide to put me under partisan trial, I shouldn't be panicked. I have many, many good friends among the leaders and I have a large amount of achievements with the atriad and the entire brigade. Even in the worst case, if for political reasons or to make an example of me they decide to sacrifice my head and spill my blood, even then, I fulfilled my duty to my mother and my people. I will not be afraid. I will look them straight in their eyes before my death.
While pondering that, after a few hours they opened the locks of my cell and I was called to see the head of the Special Unit, Grishenko, my friend and comrade since he had been one of the wounded in the hospital of the brigade. The same as I was liked and looked up to by all the wounded and sick who we took care of, I was loved and cared for by him, since immediately I took care of all the capricious needs that the patients had. We smiled, always wishing to aid them and to lessen their pain. Even before I talked to him, I felt strongly that he didn't wish me ill and that he would emphasize my achievements, my service to the people, and my kind regard to the wounded. I knew that my connections would be my shield and my deeds would be my armor against the charges. He asked me for every detail and wrote it down in his file. But before he took me back, he said , Don't be scared, Segalchik. You must not be worried. Everything will turn out ok.
Once again the doors were opened and I as taken to the office of the ComBrig. Here there were about ten of the top leaders of the brigade. Everyone came to decide what to do with me. Immediately as I entered, a commissar of the brigade by the name of Propieczko, who was formerly in the Red Army and was now sent to us from Moscow, started lecturing me about my crime. Your crime was very severe as far as the political managing and morals accepted by us. Even if those men deserved a capital punishment, you were forbidden from doing it in such a way. The way you did it vilified the image of our cause and its struggles in the eyes of the population, which is being oppressed by an invading force. I have no doubt that you deserve the most severe punishment. Talking truthfully we must put you through a quick trial here in the field, and I have the authority to give you a summary execution. But when I look at your past, which is clear of all crimes and I take into account all your great deeds and achievements in the fight of our Soviet Union, and consider your service to the brigade of partisans that you belong to, we have decided to forgive your huge crime with a warning that you must never in the future do what you have done. Immediately my pistol and the rest of my ammunition were returned to me.
I returned to the base of the hospital and the heavy shadow of this trial (field trial?) was behind me. I had completed all my personal revenges against the killers of my people, but I still made a vow that I must never forget, and that I should think about every move that I made. From now on I would take care of the wounded, and this is what I did until the happy day of liberation on the 26th of June, 1944. The day we united with the Red Army in the forest of Palik.
In returned to my hometown of Dolhinov, which was now Free of Jews, together with a few of my fighting comrades. Most of the town had been burned and there was not one Jew left. In spite of it all, we felt honored and proud to be there. Everyone's heart was crying to see the devastation of a town that shortly before had been lively and full of vitality. It had once excited our hearts with its colorful character, giving us once-youthful dreamers hopes a better future, but now it lay under my feet, burnt and silent.
Alone, I walked along the ruins. Nothing was left of my mother's house except for a few blocks. Like this we walked around, a small number of Jews, members of the partisans. The Jews who immediately returned to town were Leib Shreibman, Leibl Flant, Avraham Friedman, Gershon Lankin, and David Mirman. A few days later arrived Yitzhak Radoshkovicz and David Kazdan from Plashensitz, followed by others. Already in the first days we organized a Battalion of Punishment. I was head of it and we looked for the Nazis and their collaborators. Now it was their turn to run and hide. Leibl Flant was appointed as head of the police. Many from the gendarme and the collaborators and Gestapo people were now hiding in the forests. Originally when we recognized Gestapo people we shot them, but soon the authorities ordered us not to shoot them, telling us that we would pay dearly for such things. Now everyone had to be put through a trial, so we changed the system. In Kriviczi there was a prosecutor from the NKVD so we followed the new orders and brought the criminals and killers to trials. We had good communication with the NKVD prosecutor, which made our job easy.
So like this we stood, a few Jews, lonely and mourning, but also full of anger at our people's killers and the collaborators who would inform on the Jews and incite the killings. We remember and we will remember until our dying moment, every Dolhinov and local area youth that helped to fight the enemy and fell in the battle. Amongst them, Mulke Koritzky, Haya Shulkin, Hyena Shulman, Zalman Friedman, Mordechai Gitlitz, Mordechai and Mina Hadash, Shimon Gordon, Matityua Shimhovitz from Horodok, Shimon Kiednov from Kriviczi, Shimon Meirson, Gershon Meirson ,Mashka Dimmenstein, Avraham Itzhak Shuster, Yisrael Ruderman, Zelig Kuznitz, Mitzia Friedman from Postov, Hanoch Friedman, Faber Levin from Radishkovicz, Yisraelski from Radishkovicz, Itzhak Einbender from Kurenets, Binyamin Shulman from Kurenets, Shpreyergan from Plashensitz, Faber Rodnik from Radishkovicz, David Glasser from Dokshitz, Menashe Kopilovicz. Honor and glory to their memory. May their souls be melded in the bouquet of living (?). We must remember them in every memorial, and our revenge also will be the revenge of their blood. The revenge quieted for a moment the open anger that boiled in my blood, but late at night, all alone, my soul was restless. I knew nothing of my wife and my little girl was not yet with me. I wanted to leave the town, but I didn't know when or where I would go. I still had a duty there, and I felt that my wife was alive and that she would one day find me. But only after half a year, at the beginning of March of 1945 was I able to leave town.
Meanwhile I continued my work with the NKVD in the town. Slowly there were ten families that returned to town. Some were in Siberia, others in the center of Soviet Asia. Some of the families never returned. Others returned and lived in other areas in the area, but I'm sure others will tell their stories. As they came, everyone had a strong desire to leave the area to go to Poland, which was a gateway to other destinations. There was an agreement with Poland and the Soviet Union that anyone who was a former Polish citizen would be allowed to now leave the Soviet Union to go to Poland, so everyone went there, but no one thought of staying in Poland. It was just a station on the way to other places.
I knew that revenge was not a long term mission for me. At the end of October 1944 (?) I was called to the SlaSoviet, which was the town committee in Dolhinov. The head of the committee gave me a postcard and said, Segalchik, your wife is alive! With great excitement and with shaking hands I read the postcard which was written from Stalingrad, and my heart took flight (?). I immediately answered but didn't receive a response and again we were disconnected. At the beginning of December of 1944 I finally received another postcard asking if I was still alive. She was now in Yaroslav and the communication was easier. I started arranging for her to return. As a worker for the NKVD I was given permission to go and I brought her back. I found out that my father-in-law had died in the forest while among a camp of those who had fled Myadel. My daughter, who I left with farmer friends was returned to me. She was returned before my wife came so I put Briana Katz in charge.
Briana Katz, a woman in her 70s, was saved from one of the actions. She succeeded in escaping from town and hid with a Christian woman farmer in the village Miltzia. She stayed there for a long time, but when the woman said that she couldn't take care of her anymore, she came to the forest since she had heard that there were Jews from Dolhinov hiding there. Amongst them there was her nephew Gershon Yoffe. She was amongst the partisans near Malinkowa, and she was ready to go with a big group of Dolhinov Jews past the front lines and into Soviet territory, but the day that they were ready to leave there was a surprise attack by the Germans. Briana was wounded during the fighting and was left amongst the bushes in the forest. The enemy did not see her, and like that she stayed there for a few days.
The partisan atriad retreated during that attack to the forest but returned after a few days. One of our scouts by the name of Dobiniewicz found her and told us about a wounded woman in the forest. Avraham and I immediately went there and found her lying down with a bullet in her leg. Immediately we brought water and we found some first aid materials from a farmer. We washed her wounds and took care of her. She said to us, If you want to keep me alive and save me, you must return me to a farmer in Miltzia. So we took her that night on a wagon to that village, and told the farmwoman that she must take care of her and keep her alive. The farmwoman made the sign of the cross and swore to us that she would do whatever she could.
After one month we came to visit her and she was in better shape and able to walk. We took her to our base and appointed her to work as a non-combatant cook under the supervision of the partisan Saponov, who had been an officer in the Red Army. And like this she passed her days during the war. Eventually she immigrated to Israel and had about 20 grandchildren. She died at a very old age in a kibbutz among loving children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and kibbutz members.
Imprisonment and Trial
Until 1948 I served in the NKVD that was led by Goroshkov. I as well as other Jews were treated very fairly and with much trust by the management of the NKVD in the area as well as in Minsk (the Belarus capital). This allowed us to keep a political reputation that was squeaky clean. On the other hand, the local militia showed clear signs of anti-Semitism, but our relations with the NKVD prevented us from experiencing any direct harm from this anti-Semitism. However, in 1948, Goroshkov left the area when he was appointed to another post, and Kaviljuk became the chief of the NKVD in our area. He didn't have a very strong personality or great influence, but he was still easy to get along with. Since he liked to drink, he delegated most of the jobs to assistants, but he didn't stay in this position for very long. A new head was appointed and after that our situation changed. Slowly they started demoting us. In Minsk, a man from Gruzia (Georgia) named Tzanova, who was an associate of Stalin and Baria, was appointed to the head of the NVD (Ministry of Internal Security) and he was responsible for all of the officers in Belarus. He made trouble for all Jews, but particularly for us, and anti-Semitism flourished everywhere. At the end, this Tzanova was shot after Stalin's death.
With the change of the political climate, I was fired from my job in 1948. I was called to headquarters and asked by the chief if all of the details that I had given when I had to fill out the questionnaire were correct. Then I was asked when my sisters and brothers had left the country, and I told him that they had left before the war. I gave him all the information he wanted. Later he called me in again and said, Segalchik, you're fired. The last instructions we received from central headquarters were to fire anyone who had relatives outside of the country. Clearly this rule hurt the Jews, especially those in important positions.
Shortly after that, someone instigated another investigation. After I built my house in Radishkovicz, people were envious and suspicious. I saw the house of my father-in-law in Myadel, and as a former partisan I was able to get wood free of charge. To hire people was not expensive at the time, and once in a while I was helped by a German POW who worked for us taking care of horses. Part of the case against me was the abuse of POWs for personal enterprises.
So, my wish to have a decent home caused me to now be a prisoner in the Soviet Union. I lost my freedom, I lost my right to be a free citizen in the state that I gave my life to while fighting the Nazi enemy. After receiving my sentence in Minsk, I was transferred to a prison in Gormel. This was only a temporary holding tank. There were thousands of people there, including many Jews. I was lucky I stayed there for only a short time. From there I was sent to Arkhangelsk, a town near where the Devina River flows into the White Sea, to work in a hard labor camp. Afterwards I was moved to another camp in the area, and we worked very hard. While there, I befriended a prisoner who was a barber who offered to teach me some basic barber skills, telling me that you never know when you might need them. We would take and carry wood pieces from the river in a bridge building project, and sometime later, about 400 prisoners including me were sent to Murmansk.
For a short time I continued on the bridge building operation, but I decided to befriend the barber in this area who was a nice man. I gave him a present and he took me to work with him. I worked with him for a year and a half, so my circumstances greatly improved although I was still a prisoner.
Meanwhile, my wife and my children (now I had a son too) were left without even minimal financial help. They were about to get kicked out of the house I had toiled to build. A sole woman with a five-year-old girl and a three-year-old son. My wife protested and at the end only half of the house was confiscated by the authorities. They let her stay with the children in the other half. But how could she supply the children with food and other needs? Here my loyal friend Leib Mindel helped us a lot. He supported my family through all the years that I was in prison, and always made sure to send me food at the different prisons and hard labor camps where I stayed. My friend, Leib Mindel, could not rest. He kept trying to improve my family's situation. After much pondering he decided to approach Timczok, who had a high position in Minsk (some central planning agency?).
The commissar of Mastitya, a dear friend, saved me. He angrily questioned Mindel on why he didn't come sooner. Immediately he wrote a request for a pardon to the President of the Soviet Parliament (the Supereme/Superior Soviet?) citing my exemplary fighting record while with the partisans during the Great Patriotic War. He also described all the awards and medals that I had received. Timczok received a positive reply shortly after and he immediately called Mindel and informed him of the news. Mindel sent me a telegram and two days later we received the announcement in the camp. I was called to the head of the camp on May 1956 and released from the prison where I had been since 1949. So I returned to my home, my wife, and my children in Radishkovicz. I started bargaining with the people who lived in the other half of the house and finally I got them to leave. Again I was a homeowner and I started working, but very soon we all realized that life there was capricious and that we were always in danger. There was no future for us there, not in Radishkovicz, not in Dolhinov, and not anywhere in this area. Not even the place of my birth and uprbringing, Dolhinov, could keep me there, for at that point I only visited it on days when there was a memorial to the martyrs.
At the end of 1956, once again there was a permission granted for people who were residents of Poland prior to 1939 to return to Poland. Immediately we asked to get permission, but it was not easy. The Belarusian authorities didn't permits to any Jews in the area until 1958. A few Jews left from Radishkovicz and today they are in Israel. I didn't want to wait for my turn so I sold my house in 1957 and moved to Vilna, the capital of Lithuania, since citizens of Lithuania seemed to have had an easier time in leaving. I was not able to receive a permit to live in Vilna, so I registered in Novo Vilejka, which was very close to Vilna. I rented an apartment in the resort town of Volokopa (?).
I started taking care of the needed passports and papers and a Jewish friend helped me receive the appropriate documents from the person who headed the passport division. As you might guess, I had to bribe them. Finally, at the end of November 1957, we were able to leave Vilna for Poland. We stayed for one month in the repatriatza point and then we were sent to Vorstlav/Breslau, where we rented an apartment. To get a free apartment we were supposed to go to Zinov but we didn't want to wander around.
Finally, on October 20, 1958, we arrived in Israel. It would be very difficult for me to express the deep emotions I had when I arrived in the country. A few years later I had a successful farm with cows and other livestock. With the hard toil of my wife and son we were very successful and I was able to give an education to my children. It seems like everything was fine. We were well-established as farmers in the Moshav. It seemed that no dark clouds would come to our lives. We would see happiness in our children and grandchildren. But this was not to be. I became very sick, terminally ill. I had to sell my place and move to a desert climate in Arad. Still, here I will hold to my country until the last day that is given to me. I will continue communicating with my partisan friends, my brothers in arms who gathered here. We will all continue to gather for memorials for the martyrs of Dolhinov, Myadel, and other towns in the area. We will not forget and deny the past. It will be alive in our very beings for eternity and we will plant a seed of its memory that would be grounded in our children and grand children.
by Arye Leybl Falant of blessed memory
Translated by Janie Respitz
Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
My Life Until the Nazi's War
I was born in Dolhinov in 1908. My childhood and development was as normal as all the other children. My parents were among the better off in town (by no means were the rich) they gave me the conventional education of those years before the First World War. I went to Kheder at first with traditional Jewish teachers and then to the general public school which I graduated from in 1921. My parents ran a leather business as well as a workshop for fixing boots and shoes. Later I worked with them. This was my life until I joined the Polish army in 1931.
After my return home I married Feygshte [Feige] Gitelzon from Dolhinov a daughter from a good family. Together we built a life. A short time later my parents left for the Land of Israel. Since it was difficult to obtain certificates (otherwise I would have certainly gone as well) I took over their business and the workshop and remained independent. This continued until 1939 the outbreak of the Second World War and the destruction of Poland.
On the 17th of September 1939 the Soviet military crossed the border and captured western White Russia, and we became Soviet citizens. In light of the events and the new rules of the communist regime I liquidated my business and took a position as a director of the firefighter unit in town. The Soviets did not consider me to be a former business man or a trouble maker. I remained Kosher. That is how I was able to work with the firefighters which was comprised mainly of Jews and was hurled from organ of the NKVD. Not once was I called upon to partake in military actions and undertakings that had nothing to do with firefighters of putting out fires…
My Arrest and Expulsion
On June 22nd 1941 Hitler's Germany attacked Soviet Russia from all sides. In the first weeks of war Hitler's camps captured Minsk and beyond. They entered our secluded town June 29th 1941. That same day I was arrested.
When the German military entered our town the children from expelled families returned. They had been sitting in jails in Vileyke, Molodetchne and Minsk.
They claimed I was personally responsible for the deportation of their families. My argument was the cause, rather the NKVD but this did not help. They brought the Germans straight to my home and accused me of being a Communist. An officer ordered me to be taken away. My words did not help: they took me away.
The German headquarters were at the Catholic priest's; this is where they brought me and put me in a cell near the church. My aunt Keleh Fufman had a good relationship with the priest. She came running and intervened with him and others to set me free. The priest also got involved and tried to help. Unfortunately this was fruitless! It did not help. I was imprisoned and held in order to be shot…The military unit that held me was nearing the front and had to leave our town. The same day they were leaving toward Minsk they captured a small group of Russian POWs. Not having any orders what to do with me and the other prisoners, they took us with them. While sitting in the car with those that had arrested me at my home the Russians attacked from the air. We drove into the forest to wait out the bombings. Before this, I overheard them talking in the car that the Russian POWs will be put to work and remain alive. Just me, the Jew the war criminal will be shot. Sitting in the forest for a few hours I was treated as a plaything. All the war prisoners were given food. They gave me nothing. Every ten minutes they made me stand by a tree and a German prepared to shoot me. However he did not shoot, he just scared me; each time I almost jumped out of my skin…
Then, one of the Russians from the group of prisoners came to me. He was dressed in civilian clothes and saw how they had been treating me. He confided in me he was not a prisoner of war; he was arrested for being a communist, a party man, with all his documents and even the party hand book. He was sure he would be shot. Since he was very familiar with the region he had a plan. The two of us should run away into the forest…maybe we will succeed to escape and avoid everything…his plan interested me but seemed impossible to carry out. We were heavily guarded. Like the others, we remained detained. More guards arrived and told us to run from the forest. I thought: if they are telling us to run they will probably shoot us…I decided to run first and when I hear one shot I will return to the forest. That is exactly what happened; I was the first to run and did not hear any shooting. After running one kilometre or even more I stood still beside a German truck. At first glance I noticed shovels and crates. Again I thought: here they will ask us to dig graves…soon after we will be shot…according to the command we sat in the trucks and drove off. Among the passengers in the truck I was the only Jew together with ten Russians. After travelling for 34 hours we were brought to a camp of POWs enclosed on three sides and the fourth side was guarded by armed guards. The camp was very close to a river near an abandoned water mill. The commandant stressed that all were POWs except for one Jew who was a war criminal, dressed in civilian clothes and must be shot.
Entering the camp I had a thought: I had to get rid of my civilian clothes, perhaps this could save me. If so said and done. Within a few moments a prisoner willingly
put on my civilian jacket (all the prisoners were bickering). I remained in an undershirt. The first night passed in this temporary camp for POWs not far from the town of Kamen Gorodok in the Minsk region. I stood firmly by my decision to remain constantly awake and see everything with eyes wide open perhaps I will get out of this predicament. In the morning a larger transport of prisoners arrived. With great interest and curiosity I looked at all the faces in the chance I may recognize someone. Actually, I saw among the new arrivals a Polish acquaintance I knew from Vilna. He had been a manager there. Soon we were discussing; he told me he was arrested and brought here not even knowing why. I told him he should go to the commandant and ask on behalf of us both, two comrades, a Polish civilian and a non POW, to have us freed. He listened to me and went. The guards did not understand him as he only spoke Polish. They brought an interpreter that understood him and brought him to headquarters. After approximately a half hour he returned with a release, but unfortunately! Only for him!
The next morning German camp officers came with the same interpreter and collected all the money and valuables from the POWs. I approached the interpreter and asked him to unconditionally release me, I was not a POW, I accidently and innocently fell into this returning home from work. I spoke with him in Polish; he listened to me and told the officers my request. They ordered my release. I also requested documented release certificate. This they were not prepared to provide; only the head commandant he was busy and I would have to wait.
I decide to wait, because being freed and
leaving without a certificate puts me once again in danger of being arrested. I remained in the camp for two more days until all of us were ordered to transfer to the main camp in Molodechne. Immediately they lined us up in two rows. I put up my hand, stepped out of line noticing the same interpreter among the officers. One of the officers asked: what does this POW wish for? the interpreter approached and recognized me. I reminded him that two days earlier they were ready to free me but I waited to receive my release in writing. What is there for me to do in Molodechne with POWs? I am obviously a civilian citizen! The interpreter translated my complaint and the officers release me with the appropriate documents.
It was late in the afternoon when I left the camp, Friday July 4th, 1941. Firstly, I posed the question, where shall I go? The entire region was unfamiliar and I really wanted to be in our region. I decided to go to the town of Kamen Gorodok and enter a Jewish house to find out how to return to our region.
I did not wander around town for long; I was standing beside a house with drawn curtains. For sure this is a Jewish home I imagined. They fear the Germans and cover the windows. I knocked softly and entered. A Jewish woman stood before me and I immediately greeted her with a good Sabbath! I wanted her to know that I was a Jew. She responded very warmly. She wanted to give me food. I turned it down because I wanted to distance myself from the town and camp as quickly as possible. I told her I must run as soon as possible and asked the way to the border town of Radashkovitch I had a friend there. She explained it was 28 kilometres away. I thanked her and promptly left.
When I received my official release documents I was told by the German officers to go only on main highways so I will not be arrested by other police or gendarmes I went straight for the highway. I noticed movement on the way. Many German military powerful transports were travelling in the opposite direction toward the front. I remained calm and bravely continued on my way.
I found my way to the Jew I was looking for; everyone was in hiding. I knocked softly and they answered. They were afraid to keep me in their house. Due to impending danger they led me to a stable outside the house. Before the war this Jew worked the land and had large stables. I hid in the stable. In the morning when people were leaving to work I realized it would not be safe for me to remain; I had to continue my journey…I decided to go to Vilna; I believed and hoped it would be easier for me there to live out these difficult and fearful times.
The stations on my walk were: Ilye, Kurenitz, a yard of landowner and again to Kurenitz, Smorgon and Sal [Soly] all on my way to Vilna. From Radashkovitchi went to Ilye, a long trip and about 30 kilometres from Dolhinov. On my way I had to cross a bridge over the Vilia River which was without a doubt guarded by Germans and their retinues. There was no other road for me to take. I approached the bridge. The guards told me to stand and wait. A military transport going to the front was crossing; I stopped and waited.
I had a few stressful moments before they allowed me to cross.
I continued on my way getting closer to Ilye,
and I saw a crowd of peasants running with bags in their hands to town…unfortunately I had to enter the town…quickly I noticed someone from Dolhinov a blacksmith named Feytl, I don't remember his last name a Jewish pauper, there was nothing to steal from him. He lived among Christians on a non Jewish street. Many prosperous Ilye Jews hid their valuables at his place.
While I was asking where to go and with whom to hide the village peasants broke down his door and entered his house. I ran out to the yard to find a place to hide and fell suddenly into some trees. I was very tired, hungry and weak from my trek. I don't know how much time passed; when I came to, Feytl told me that his neighbours Poles, chased the strangers, the villagers away and did allow them to steal. His fear and worry for me was not diminished.
We both realized this was no place for me to hide. I decided to look for a good friend of mine from my line of business named Kalman. It was not hard for me to find him; not far from his house I noticed someone looking out from behind a curtain and quickly disappear…I approached the entrance to the house and the door quickly opened.
It took Kalman a long time to calm down from the great joy he felt to see I was alive as he had been told I was shot by the Germans. He received me very warmly. They gave me food, and we discussed my next steps. I told him I wanted to go to Kurenitz. I had a sister there; perhaps I could stay with her temporarily. He made me aware of the dangers on the road; it was not only the Germans that posed a threat, but the village peasants as well. A few Jews had been recently murdered. However he did not want to stop me from my decision.
With a heartfelt warm goodbye I left Kalman in Ilye and headed toward Kurenitz. I passed through many villages on my way; the villagers laughed at me: Hey Jew! You ran from the Soviets, and now you are running back… I feared these encounters. Finally, I reached my sister in Kurenitz. There were no boundaries to my sister's joy when she saw me alive.
It was Wednesday morning the 9th of July 1941. The day after my arrival the German commissar ordered all men between the ages of 15 and 65 come to the marketplace. Everyone without exception must come; anyone who does not come and is found at home will be shot together with his entire family…My sister was afraid and begged me to go to the appointed spot. I was still frightened from my journey and did not want to go. I told my scared sister I was going but in fact I did not go…
Luckily all those gathered were only frightened…that day they did not take anyone away. They received a short lecture and warning that everyone must show up to work when ordered, and then they were sent home.
It was not possible for me to remain with my sister for long; the Judenrat could not handle the injustice that I would not work…I decided to leave because I was afraid I would be seen by a Pole from Dolhinov. The Judenrat did not want to take this into account;
As I had no way out I went to work for a land administrator 7 kilometres from Kurenitz, a Soviet collective farm. After my first day of work saw from afar a familiar
Pole from Dolhinov. I hoped he did not see me and did not recognize me. I was sure he did not want to harm me. The same day he went to Kurenitz and went to the home of a Jewish friend and told him he saw Leybl Falant working in the field and he will go to Dolhinov and give regards as everyone there thinks he was shot…
When I returned to Kurenitz the Jew was at my sister's and told her the story about the Pole. I told the Jew that the intentions were good but it could result in something bad…he would not be satisfied with telling my family; he will surely tell others and all around, from house to house until the whole town knows as well as the police and the Germans.
I soon received a second greetings; Yoske Shenyuk[Sheniuk] a soninlaw of a family from Dolhinov born in Vilna ran away in fear of the Germans. We both decided we should return to Vilna sooner than later. But not all that is said is done; how will we get there? Finally we found a way out: the civil offices were next to my sister's house; the German police commander also had their office there. A Polish interpreter worked there. I knew him a bit and knew he goes to work every day at 8 o'clock. I waited for him and asked him to go with my to the commandant to receive documents to travel to Vilna. I took out a nice watch and gave it to the Pole and told him this was my only request of him. He immediately promised me he would deliver my request the next morning. He kept his word; he went in with me and Shenyuk to ask for the documents. My request was granted. The interpreter told them I was from Vilna as was returning home. The German believed him.
However he did not have the authority to give travel papers to Vilna. The city belonged to Lithuania another district. He could only provide us with papers to Ashmene [Oshmene] the last border town on the way to Vilna. Having the documents for Ashmene, we were sure it would be easy for us to get to Vilna. It was by no means easy; for the time being, we did not arrive in Vilna.
In the Sol Ghetto
That same morning Thursday July 17th 1941 Yoske Shenyuk and I left on our way. The road was very quiet and after walking about 35 kilometres we arrived in Smorgon. Here we sensed for the first time, our situation was becoming more threatened and dangerous. Jews were now restricted in their elementary human civil rights. We also now knew the ghetto was a bitter fact: Two ghettos were already separated for Jews: in the city and outside the city for the former Jewish farmers who were concentrated there and under no circumstances could they enter the city without a special written permission. We decided not to stop, as previously planned and continued on the road to Ashmene. After walking another 15 kilometres we arrived in Sol a small town on our way with 65 Jewish families and a few dozen Christian families.
It was already late afternoon and we needed to find a place to rest for the night and spend a few days. Staying outside the ghetto was not possible so went into the ghetto to the Judenrat. The Judenrat had orders from the Germans not to allow any refugees into the ghetto as many Jews during those weeks were running from place to place. The members of the Judenrat led by Mikhl Magid feared the authorities and could not help us.
They suggested we go to the Polish police and if their commander agrees, they could admit us. We had to find different excuses as our permit for Ashmene was no longer valid.
Thanks to the intervention of a Polish policeman that took interest in us, the commander stamped our documents and wrote: Temporary residents in Sol. We went straight to the Judenrat.
The people at the Judenrat were happy; they now how two young strong guys to work…their town was very small; the population was aging and the Germans were demanding more and more workers they used our talents for all the hard work. Why should the send their own Jews when they could send Foreigners? To them we were Refugees…
I worked there for a few weeks until I had the opportunity to improve and change my situation. The town's boot maker became ill and could no longer work. The town was left without a shoemaker or a stitcher. The German commander was demanding shoes; The Polish police and others also needed boots and there was no one to provide the service. The Judenrat was under pressure and distressed. Where could they find a tradesman? This could bring trouble…I went to the Judenrat and told them I was able to help; I was a shoemaker and a stitcher and was ready to do the work. My offer was received as an omen, as if a new Messiah had arrived in the world. They went straight to the German commandant and immediately they opened a boot workshop outside the ghetto according to the orders of the German commandant in the town.
Overnight I became a very important and useful Jew for the Judenrat and everyone else
An angel sent for all. Working in the workshop outside the ghetto, I was the only one permitted to walk around outside the ghetto. I became the middleman between the Jews and Christians in Sol. If a Jew needed to exchange something with a Christian he brought it to me and I took care of it. In short: my situation changed from day to night. I worked, earned a living. I did not lack money and I did not need anything. The German authority demanded contributions from the Jews I was the one to give more than the rest and I helped all who were in need.
It is important to mention another detail: the episode I am describing took place in a later time period; about 89 months had passes since we were to stay temporarily in Sol. At the beginning of April 1942, if I am not mistaken, we received news from Kurenitz that Shenyuk's wife and two children were there after they escaped from Dolhinov right after the first German operation. Unfortunately I did not receive any news about my family. They also knew absolutely nothing about me as there was no communication. When my friend received greetings that his wife in children were without livelihood and alone, it was clear I could not remain indifferent and not bring them to him. We decided among us that we must bring them to Sol. In order to realize this desire I paid a peasant 8 pounds of flour to bring them on his wagon to Sol so they could be together with us. This is what happened: they lived with us together with the family where we lived. Yoske worked in a small factory of fishing nets sent there by the Judenrat. The Germans gave him a work certificate making him useful. But he did not receive money for his work…therefore I supported his family.
I did not want and could not be satisfied with all this luck. For me it was not more than survival by the hour.
I never stopped asking myself: how much longer will the Germans allow the Jews to leave peacefully in town? We knew what was going on in surrounding towns. I was looking and waiting for an opportunity to go to Vilna. I had a sister there as well and I had had enough of Sol.
Back to the Labour Camp
The head commander in the district of Ashmene gave an order: The town must supply 60 men for the new labour camp. Another difficult burden for the Judenrat and ghetto: the majority of the ghetto population children and the elderly. There were very few young people. It was impossible to carry out this order. Extremely perplexed the Judenrat decided not to supply a list as not to be forced to tear a man away from his wife and children, or to take a grown only child away. The German police commandant ordered officers to investigate how the Judenrat and the Jews of Ashmene failed to carry out the order. It happened like this: Two three days later a Gestapo team came to Ashmene and commanded: everyone from 1565 must line up in rows. No one knew if they would be taken to the camp or shot for not supplying the requested list?
I had the opportunity not follow the order; I had special papers stating I was useful and could not go. My friend Yoske Shenyuk had the same thing. He told me straight up that he is not going.
I said I was going…All the members of the Judenrat told me not to go. That did not help. I did not want to go back on my decision to try to get to Vilna at any cost. My friend actually remained and did not go; he grew a big beard which made him look older so they would not try to take him. I already had other thoughts and plans; while working in the workshop I often heard the Poles telling stories about landing troops and parachutists here and there; there were partisans not far from Sol who were active. This gave me hope.
Finally I got into line with everyone else. Seeing I was a young man able to work the Gestapo did not hesitate for a minute. They immediately took me and 65 other men to the labour camp at the train station Olkeniki on the line Vilna Warsaw through Grodno. There we worked building a new railroad line on the same route. The work was very difficult; they treated us very poorly and fed us very little…200 grams of under baked bread and a bit of watery soup. There were also Poles working there but not together with us. We were constantly guarded. We all slept in one building, men and women. We worked from 6 o'clock in the morning until 6 o'clock at night; they did not beat us, but God forbid someone got sick. We worked in these conditions for 45 months, through the passing of fall to winter until we completed the line from Vilna to Grodno.
Right after they took us to a camp in New Vileyka near Vilna; once again our task was to build a railroad. There were already Jews working there which were brought to the camp every day from Vilna ghetto. Our group worked separately and our guards brought us back and forth from the camp every day. We were able to move a bit a make contact with the other groups of workers from Vilna ghetto. Meanwhile I
Contacted an older head master from our work. I told him I was a skilled boot maker a stitcher and a shoemaker I can do anything with leather. If he would give me permission to go to Vilna I would make something in leather for his children. He agreed and gave me the necessary permit.
One evening after I worked I went to Vilna with the group of workers from the ghetto. I made the leather pieces I promised the headmaster. This time I did not see my sister by I sent a message with a Jewish man that I was alive. I returned to the camp and showed the master the leather I brought. He was very happy; now I had to find a boot maker or a shoemaker in New Vileyke who had a sewing machine because without the machine I could not make the shoes for his children. He gave me a permit to go look for someone with a machine. I went straight to town and found a Polish shoemaker with a machine which had previously belonged to a Jew and was stolen by the murderous thieves.
I befriended the Pole; he was not a bad guy I saw he stood by the principle: One hand washes the other. He agreed to let me use his machine as long as I made certain things for him. This worked well for me as I was now able to freely go to New Vileyke. The head master no longer made my life difficult. I went to work diligently every day and tried to work with the Pole as long as possible hoping to be done with the work in the camp.
Eventually I stopped going to the camp and remained with the Pole; for the moment I was not in danger
as no one was looking for me. I remained with the Pole for 3 months, out of danger; every Saturday I would go to my sister in Vilna. I would go to the ghetto with the returning workers. My sister was left with 3 children; her husband was already gone the Germans took him away. I had to make sure she and the children had enough food.
I continued to do this until our entire group was moved from New Vileyke to Vilna. Of course I remained in Vilna but I often returned to the Pole to work.
In the Vilna Ghetto
Time passed quickly: the last months of 1942 were approaching. As I mentioned above I travelled often to the Pole in New Vileyke from Vilna. One day I met two Jewish men and a woman at the train station who wanted to go to Vilna. I was very interested to learn where they came from and who they were? They told me they were partisans and had an order, at all cost, to enter Vilna and make contact with the underground organization. One of them whose name was Ichilchik, lives today in Israel; I learned his name after. When I asked if they had anything illegal they told me they had two pistols and were afraid to enter Vilna with the weapons due to the Lithuanian police at the entrance who guard and search everyone. I took their pistols and hid them and entered the ghetto with them.
Until today I don't know how they knew right away that strangers entered the ghetto,
They immediately began searching for them. The Jewish ghetto police conducted an intensive search, but did not find them as I knew how and where to hide them. Two days later there was an order: all the Jews working outside the city can no longer go. They can only work in Vilna! I was no longer permitted to go to New Vileyke to finish my work. One day 15 young guys including me were organized to find out what was going on around us…I wanted to go to NewVileyke to finish and take care of a few things. We claimed we were going to work for a unit in the city. We walked to New Vileyke along the railroad tracks. We remained an entire day, did what we needed to do and returned. I don't know how they knew in the ghetto that we went to New Vileyke. Upon our return we were detained by the ghetto police until 12 o'clock. They kept us in the police headquarters of the ghetto. The situation was serious.
A Jewish woman, who cleaned for Gens, the head of the Judenrat helped us. She was well oriented in the ghetto hiding places and knew all the Germans that would come to Gens sand knew more or less what was going on. She saved many who were caught and would be shot. I wrote a note and threw it out of the window of the police headquarters. I wrote whoever finds this note please give it to that woman in the ghetto. And that is what happened; a Jew that found the note found the address and brought it to my sister telling her of my arrest and asking her to go to Gens' cleaning lady and come tell me what happened. After a short time, my sister came and told me I had nothing to fear; they were going to free us after an interrogation. i could relax and stop worrying.
The Jewish ghetto police took us one by one for questioning, asking why we went to New Vileyke? What did we do there? They never got to me. At 2:00 in the morning they let us go.
Leaving for the Partisans
The situation in Vilna ghetto was getting more series, complicated and dangerous from day to day. Chicanery started again, transports to Ponar. The underground resistance organization F.P.O led by Itzik Vittenberg as well as Shaynboym and his wife, was already very active in the ghetto.
Already for a while, back when I visited my sister on Saturdays decided to connect with the leaders of the F.P.O. and enter the ranks of the members. I was nominated as a group leader and every evening taught my group and others how to handle weapons. I also remained in tight contact with the P.P.O. Our organization was ready for battle. The leaders began organizing smaller groups who were prepared to leave the ghetto for the forest.
Again time was flying; it was summer 1943. As a former soldier in the Polish army and experienced with weapons and ammunition I presented my instructor abilities educating the resistance groups, every night going to different secret places. The organization spread out its activity; we had members placed at every work place and we secretly placed members in the ghetto police force; this is how we knew exactly what was going on. We knew who the enemy was planning to attack or deport to labour camps and so on. The Germans would always
Carry out their plans suddenly and unexpectedly. Only the police and Judenrat knew. People left to work in various units and never returned. They were captured and sent to labour camps. The members of the F.P.O knew and informed others not to go to work. This is how we avoided attacks and other problems and commands. There had already been two or three bloody attacks. The population of the ghetto was shrinking. Entire families were sent to their death at Ponar. The F.P.O finally decided to send out resistance groups from the ghetto to the forests Naratz [Narach] and Rudnitski steppe.
Finally my turn came; I don't remember exactly when I left either the end of June or beginning of July 1943. I went with 16 other men towards Narach steppe according to the demands of our leaders and even the agreement of Gens. By that time there was unofficial contact with him; this was almost after everyone after the last attack and before the complete liquidation of the Vilna ghetto. I wrote I was the alleged husband of my sister. She wanted everything to be legal, so she went to Gens and we left with his consent. Leaving the ghetto we were met by our guide a partisan from Narach forest, experienced in all the roads, detours and trails. His name was Moishe Shutan; today he lives in Israel. Our group was comprised of 10 men and 6 women; those who went with me were: my present wife and her husband he had previously been a pilot in the army and was killed in the forest during a battle. Also with us was Shurke Katznelenbogen a wellknown artist from Sventzian and Vilna. All together we were as mentioned, 16 people.
We were already about 60 kilometres from Vilna near the beginning of the Narach thick forests which go on far and long,
where there already were partisans. Soon we were in Naratch (on the lake) in the headquarters of Markov's brigade. They received us and coopted us in a detachment called Mestizial (Revenge). A little later the entire detachment was Jewish. A bit later our detachment was renamed Komsomolsky named for Vorashilov and once again Jews and Christians together. We continued to fight until liberation when the partisans were dissolved in the forests.
It is there we met Abba Kovner, the head of the F.P.O after Vittenberg voluntarily left the vise of the gestapo and later became a commander of a unit in the forest. Kovner and his unit were not with us; they went during the blockade to the Rudnitski steppe. Only Yosef Glazman from the Vilna group remained with us as well as the Jewish commander Busienis. A Lithuanian Jew from Kovno, later chosen as the leader of the Lithuanian detachment. During one of the confrontations with the Germans during a blockade and raid against us, Glazman fell. I was the leader of a unit which was comprised of 35 partisans Jews and Christians. We belonged to the Markov brigade whose commander was Markov and the commander of the detachment was Volodya Shavlevitch who had strong antiSemitic inclinations, intentions and practices.
The group I left with crossed the Vilya River and succeeded in creating a part of the horse delivery. The Germans made a blockade against the partisans Narach forests. As a result of the situation we had to divide the group: the part with me had to return to base with the horses; the other group remained for further recruited horses. Nearing our base, I heard from peasants that our base was moved and the German blockade
was becoming stringer. Paying no attention and without calculations I took my entire transport and all my people to the base hoping to still find someone there. I found no one at the base: the partisans were gone. The only ones there were a few unaffiliated Jews, not belonging to the detachment. They were wandering tin the forest naked and with nothing to eat, not knowing what to do. I felt compelled to help them, because Markov's brigade would often offer help.
Finally I ascertained, receiving some news that our detachment was now at a base deeper in the forest, even though all the brigade detachments had left. The commander Voldya Shavlevitch held up the detachment because his wife gave birth in the forest. We arrived just as they were getting ready to leave. My group and I joined the detachment in order to reach a safer more suitable place to fight the enemy. Voldya apparently had another plan: he wanted to remain dry to avoid every confrontation with the enemy, and when that proves to be impossible to defend to the maximum. He decided to create a squad of only Christians, take the best weapons and leave the Jews in the forest.
Standing in rows with the whole detachment he told a story, which for me and my friends was something new (we all already knew the entire brigade retreated and were gone): there was ostensibly an order from Moscow do not rise up against the enemy; there is a powerful force…we must leave in small groups, later the detachment would unite again. At the same time he pointed to his chosen squad and demanded others to give up their best weapons for his people .He told one of them to come to me and take my weapon.
That partisan came to me. I did not give him my very good semi automatic…
Harsh words passed between me and the commander and I kept my weapon; he saw he would not prevail…time was running out and knowing my relationship with the commander, he was not sure if he could get away with taking my weapon…he feared other consequences…he took weapons from those who did not resist him and left with his squad, attacking all who remained (only Jews!). They broke into small groups and headed east. We left soon after; we were a group of only Jewish partisans. We took all the Jews who were around the forest with us even if they wee not partisans. We could not remain indifferent to them and leave them in the forest or send them away from us…
There were more partisan battles and confrontations with the Germans and their satellites throughout the fall and winter of 1943 and winter spring of 1944. We had to endure bitter battles during the German blockades and raids while suffering great hunger unable to reach a village for an economic exercise, in other words, to get something to eat. The most difficult was the blockade of May 1944. All the partisan brigades were suffering. There were many casualties. We overcame and conquered these last difficulties. Liberation came around mid July 1944. We breathed freely. After long weeks of hunger we ate until we were satisfied.
After Liberation Return to Dolhinov
Right after liberation I was sent through
the brigade headquarters to work in the town of Myadel to organize and run the fire department and remain there. My heart was not in it as I did not find one Jewish survivor there. I wanted to go to Dolhinov, my hometown. I dreamed of finding members of my family. I also had a burning desire to take revenge! To take vengeance on all the peasants who participated in the attacks and helped the enemy exterminate Jews and slaughtered unprotected women and children and looted Jewish homes.
So I left the town and headed in the direction of my hometown. As I was nearing Dolhinov I heard that all the Jewish partisans that returned to the region were mobilized into the Red Army to continue to fight the German enemy. I decided to take my battle to my hometown and take revenge on our local enemy, as much as I could. I offered my service to the NKVD in order to detain, arrest and try all those who collaborated with the Germans. The head of the NKVD in the area was in Krivitch; I went in and told my autobiography in full detail. It was good and useful for them that I was a citizen of the region and they recruited me and sent me to work in Dolhinov.
Upon my arrival in Dolhinov a peasant saw me and ran over to hug and kiss me very happy to see I was alive…I stopped him. I already knew his previous tricks what he committed under the Germans…now he became good…he told me Yakov Segalovitch was in town. I went straight to him and discussed the present situation. He pointed out that we must be cautious; not to take thing into our own hands! Don't shoot! Former Christian partisans were wandering about spying on Jews and reporting them to the authorities…I offered some advice.
I put all the elements on a special list that were connected to the commissariat. At the time there was a Jewish major from the Red Army who listened to me; I told him I was serving in the NKVD and my work is disturbed as Jew by former Christian partisans. He ordered them to be mobilized to serve in the army. It was now possible for me to work freely and undisturbed.
I went straight to the Catholic priest, a Pole; he was the only Christian in town who I believed and trusted. He was truly happy to see me alive as we had really been good friends before the war. I told him everything and asked which of the Christians in town was not guilty in participating in the attacks?
Look here, Leybe Falant, he said to me, everyone is guilty! Throw a stone from on end to the other, all are guilty except for two Poles whose names I will give you. He told me their names. Now knowing who, what and how, and knowing without a doubt that we won't harm the innocent, we, Yakov Segalovitch and I finished off tens of bloody criminals and brought about long prison terms and exile for them.
My Crime and Punishment
If my memory is not mistaken, it was already the end of 1944. I had to run a control attack in a certain village where there was a suspicion that in the nearby forest there was a band that was planning a counter attack and incendiary agitation against the authority. Upon arriving in the village the suspicions were proven to be true; a peasant violently resisted which resulted in a fight and a warning from me that if he does not stop I will resort to severe means. He did not stop and he shot.
There was no longer a choice; I had to shoot in self defence. I shot him and aimed well: he died on the spot.
In essence the shooting was not considered a great crime; that peasant was about to be arrested for his behaviour during Hitler's occupation. This probably had not gone any further had I not fallen on bad luck. This was not my only case. There were a lot of cases when the NKVD militias former partisans took it upon themselves to shoot. The authorities decided to stop and liquidated the partisan acts and deeds and finally order legal limits as in a regular regime. They brought in a prosecutor for the whole region and they openly ran court negotiations with strict punishments for those who shot on their own. This was the case of my bad luck during the new course taken by the regime.
I was arrested and brought to court under a difficult legal clause: carrying out an act of murder out of revenge that called for the highest punishment from 8 years in jail to death by shooting. Standing in front of the court I did not agree to the charge. I pleaded I was forced to shoot in order to defend myself and it was absolutely not an act of revenge, even though the peasant would have deserved that…he was a murderer of many innocent! He shot me first and missed! They then changed the clause from 3 to 8 years. They sentenced me to three years in jail, but in fact I did not serve the three years; my punishment was changed from jail to serving one month in a penal battalion where I had to redeem my guilt with blood meaning falling in battle or bringing a German's head as ransom for my sin.
Right after the trial they took me to Bobruisk, where
the penal battalion was situated, to teach and prepared before being sent to the front. There were other sinners with me and they did not even entrust us with weapons. They promised to give us weapons at the front. After a short training they sent us to the front; it was already the beginning of May 1945. We travelled for 2 days and experienced…we knew nothing, we had no idea what was happening on all fronts; we were criminals. They did not tell us any news. Nobody was interested in us. When our transport was stopped we didn't even have anyone to ask: why, and what's next? We know nothing for a whole day; we were being sent back. After two days of travelling back to Bobruisk and arriving there, they informed us the war was over and with our great victories, Hitler's Germany capitulated.
Uprooted and Transplanted
After two three weeks we received an order to mobilize all that belonged to the demobilized year; I had to wait until the arrival of my year schema. Finally my deadline came and I was freed from the army.
I no longer had the desire to return to my hometown after liberation. No one remained from my family, only a piece of property which I wanted to sell. I came to Dolhinov and went to the police. They wanted to reinstate me in the NKVD with all my rights. I was no longer interested. Other directions and plans were attracting me. It became clear to me the necessity of a new life process uproot and transplant on new territory, on new land. I could not build a life on
graves. Ruined lives and complete destruction. I had to leave!
I left from Sventzian where my present wife was. Her husband, mentioned earlier was a pilot and partisan was no longer alive. He was killed in the forest. Their child remained with peasants and went to get the child right after my liberation. Shortly after we married and I adopted the child.
In 1946 we left for Poland because of the repatriation agreement as a Polish citizen. We spent two three months in Lodz and from there to Shtetshin[?]. From there we crossed the border illegally and arrived in Berlin. We remained there for a few months and from there we were sent to a Jewish D.P camp (Displaced Persons) in a town near Stuttgart. In a short time I received a certificate and we left for the Land of Israel. I had my family there my parents, brothers and sisters in Tel Aviv.
By the end of 1947 I was already with my new family my second wife and child in Tel Aviv with my parents, bothers and sisters. After a short time my wife gave birth to a little son: of course I went to work and began to reconstruct our transplanted life. I began to work as a construction worker; later a building entrepreneur, a builder. I became a builder of a new land, a new life. I helped transplant many who were uprooted like me.
Today, as I tell my life story for these pages I am extremely lucky and happy. Because I know and I am convinced that I am not going anywhere from here. We have a new homeland!…our old new State of Israel!
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