The farmer who had taken me in his carriage for my new job started a conversation with me. When we were nearly in Kalin, he enlightened me of what was awaiting me in Kalin. He told me that the village residents were extremely distressed with the idea that a Jew would be responsible for the education of their Christian children. Furthermore they did not accept the appointment peacefully; they sent a committee of the village citizens to protest to the board of education. They demanded that the Soviets send a Christian replacement.
Therefore, I started my job in a hostile and mistrusting environment. However, I came to work with an abundance of energy and with utmost commitment. After a short time the students flourished and greatly advanced in their studies. When the students became attached to me, the parents changed their attitude towards me too. By the end of the year, our bond was so strong that they suggested that I teach permanently, in spite of the fact that the old teacher had come back. Now they sent a letter to the office of education demanding to designate me a permanent teacher in their village.
I was a teacher in Kalin for one more year. In June, when the school year ended, I went to my parents' house in Kurenets to acquire some rest during the summer vacation. As it turned, I didn't get any relaxation that summer.
On June 22, 1941, the Germans invaded Russia. Fear and hysteria spread rapidly amongst the Jewish population. We understood well the extent of the war, since Kurenitz was a central gathering station for the Red Army in the first few days. The town was teeming with soldiers day and night.
Rumors spread that the Germans were very close. Minsk was exploding and soon the Soviet workers, who were sent from Russia to Kurenitz two years prior, (before 1939 Kurenitz was part of Poland) started running away east, toward the Old Russian border.
It took one night for them to collect their belongings and run.
My parents' home was divided after the Soviets came, in one part lived a clerk with the NKVD and his family, in another part lived the head of the police. His family at that point was vacationing in Minsk, he was so busy with police matters that when he received the order to leave, he had no time to gather his belongings.
Many left town toward the east. Some went by foot, others by transportation. They used trucks, trains that departed from Vileyka, carriages, riding horses and bicycles, anyway they could distance themselves from the approaching enemy.
The town's streets were awash with action and pandemonium. Young people carrying luggage scurried from one street to the next looking for some means of transportation. All around you would hear cries of good-byes and words of desperation. I wanted to run east, however my heart did not let me leave my parents behind. I considered taking them with me but I knew that this was an impossible journey for them. I consulted with the head of the police who was leaving that day, he assured me that he would return the next day and inform me of the situation on the road. Meanwhile he said that I should not panic, I should wait in town for a few more days. He did return the next day and told me that there were rumors that some Germans dressed as Red Army soldiers parachuted in the area and we should be careful when we talk to strangers. Minsk was already occupied by the Germans, the head of the police left and didn't return. In fact, the town was left with no ruling authority.
Most of the Jews, who ran away, returned to town, some found the roads blocked. The Germans preceded others. Great fear spread amongst the Jews. We all remembered the scary days prior to the Soviets' entrance to town in 1939, days where the town was left with no one who governed, and the villagers came to rob. And if it happened prior to the Soviets, we were sure it would happen on a much larger scale when the anti-Semite Germans were approaching.
To our surprise, the Christian inhabitants of our town decided to help the Jews; they organized a patrol to prevent the villagers from entering town. They asked us to join them in the effort to save the town from the approaching pillagers. We soon realized that they were doing it not for the love of 'Mordechai", when the Soviets ran away, they left a lot of supply behind. The Christian inhabitants did not want to share the supply with out of town pillagers. Therefore at the town outskirts there was voluntary citizens patrol, some were armed with rifles. They let none enter town.
The Germans already entered most of the towns in our area; we were amongst the last. Most of the Jews hid in their homes but some were curious, they stood outdoors when the Germans arrived. The first to reach town was a unit riding motorcycles. They opened the potrebsyoz storage buildings and the cooperatives and distributed the merchandise amongst the local residents. Right behind them, a large group of soldiers entered the town. An order was immediately announced; "all weapons that are held by local citizens must be brought to the field police at once". When two Jewish cousins (both named Shimon Zimerman), who were just done with their watch as the Germans arrived, returned their weapons, the Germans imprisoned them. We were all very fearful for them since they had just vanished! Two weeks passed and then a villager told their family that they were murdered on the day they were arrested.
Jews who held high positions during the Soviet days were now very fearful of reprisals. The men, who did not succeed in escaping to Russia, searched for hiding places. My father hid Leib Charnas above our room in the attic right next to the Rabbi minyan. He was in hiding there until his family was able to arrange something else for him. The Germans ordered the Jewish men to gather in the town center, there they were told of the new rules and limitations. All Jews had to partake in the work force without any monitory compensation. We were from now on, as livestock, only allowed to walk in the middle of the road, no sidewalks for us. Every Jew older then sixteen had to put a sign that he was a Jew on his clothes. The sign had to be seen and recognized from afar. First, we had to tie a white ribbon on our sleeves with the letter "J" for "Jew". Then a patch replaced it with "J" on our chests. Later it was a patch with a Jewish star. At the end, it was a yellow Jewish star on both the front and the back. Any gathering of more then three people at the time was disallowed. No contact with the Christian population was permitted. Disregarding any of these rules would cause very harsh punishments. Of the kind of punishments they were talking about we had a clear idea. Shmuel Gurevich and Zalman Mendel son of Cheikel Velvel Alperovich were amongst the well to do Jews in town in the Polish days. When the Soviets entered Kurenitz in 1939, they confiscated their properties. Both men and their families moved to the shtetl Sol. When the Germans invaded the men decided to return to Kurenitz, the men came first to check the situation. They arrived and decided to go back to Sol and transfer their families to Kurenitz. On their way the Germans caught them and killed them on the spot. Travel by Jews was not permitted except for the places that the Germans were ordering them to go.
Particularly devastating for us was the order prohibiting any contact with the Christians. Since we were not being compensated for our work, we needed to barter for food. The farmers didn't need us now; they were well off from the properties that the escapees (both Soviets and Jews) left behind. The homes and rooms of the escapees were broken. Locks, doors and windows were destroyed; all their possessions were stolen. Even the door handles were taken. This was the fate of the part of our house were the former head of the police used to live.
There were farmers who disregarded the threats and continued, out of friendship, to help the Jews. My family also had such righteous Christian friends, and amongst the kindest of them was the Smetinko family that we knew from the days of Polish rule. At the time of the Soviet rule, I met them again in the village Kalin, where I worked as a teacher. So as soon as the Germans entered the town, Mr. Smetinko and his daughter came to our house with food and were very concerned for us. When the situation worsened, especially after Simhatoa killing, Smitenko put his own life in danger and came to our house to comfort us. One day he came with a suggestion that we move to his village in his new apartment, where I used to live when I was a teacher. He suggested it without asking for any valuables in return, which was so unusual at the time that most Jews gave their valuables to friendly farmers, and many of them were later turned over to the Germans by these same farmers. But Smetinko, who received nothing from us, tirelessly tried to help us through all the days of the German occupation.
The only food we were able to obtain was a little bread that we received for our hard labor. Two hundred and fifty grams was given to each soul. My first job was at a community center, where the German POW patrol lived. The camp was situated on a yard that had previously been the meat market. Pokenn village on one side, and the fields of Dr. Schostekowitz on the other side bordered it. The yard was fenced in by barbed wire, and watchtowers with searchlights were at each corner. There were 30 of us who were sent there to clean and wash clothes. When the German soldiers left for training or to receive new POWs, we would clean their rooms and clean their laundry. Then we would peel potatoes and prepare bread for the POWs. Originally we didn't know who was going to eat the bread and we did as we were told, cutting the bread into five equal pieces, which meant two hundred grams for each slice. But when we realized this bread was given to the POWs, we were full of pity and we wanted to do something for them. So we disregarded the rules and we started cutting the bread into four pieces, so that each would get a little more. But most of the time we would get caught and were forbidden from doing this. From the potatoes we would make soup that was very watery and tasteless. Sometimes we managed to put a few pieces of dry fish that we found in the Soviet storage area, but this was a very rare occasion.
The Germans would beat the POWs with rubber sticks till they bled. Germans that were not able to find sticks would hit the POWs with their rifles, knives, or whatever they could find. The POWs came through the little town of Retzka, rest in the meat market for one night, and in the morning they would continue on their way to Vileyka. At the entrance to the camp, the German soldiers stood in two lines and each POW would be beaten till he bled. If there was a sick or wounded POW that would fall on his march or would lean on his friend, they would double the beatings, and many times they would kill them on the spot.
We, the Jews, stood near the POWs. We were very closely watched and were told to give each POW a piece of bread. If we noticed that the Germans were not paying attention, we would give the POWs the breadcrumbs that we collected after the cutting of the bread, or we would gather the breadcrumbs at the edge of the table so the POWs could take them themselves. When we were caught we were blamed for our negligence and we were beaten very severely, but even more so they beat the POWs that were caught doing this. In two boilers that were standing outside, other people made soup for a few hundred people. Altogether they would put in three to five containers of potatoes.
Some prisoners had little empty cans, but some didn't have even that, so they had to forego the soup. Some would take their hats and put the soup in them, eating from that. Each day they would march from 50 to 80 kilometers, lasting for weeks. They were tired and depressed, and many died on the way. The Germans murdered those who were weak and malingering. The nights were cold, and many of them did not have anything warm to wear. Many of them threw away their coats when they had originally attempted to escape imprisonment, or during the long marches as their coats made the walk more difficult. The reason why many of them let go of their coats was that you could see their rank insignia. Some who had high rank did not want the Germans to know about it. Most of their shoes were torn from their marches, and they could hardly sleep at night from the cold. Sometimes, before night came, the Germans would give them a few pieces of wood to make bonfires, and those few pieces of wood caused big fights among the POWs. Sometimes it even made them kill one another. A few POWs tried to escape during the night, but they almost always failed. When the Germans caught them they were killed on the spot. Early in the morning they were kicked out of the yard and make them march to Vileyka. When they left, the Jews of the town would bury the dead and clean the yard for the next transport.
After a while I was sent to another place, to the Luban farm. Prior to the war the Luban farm was a model farm. When the Germans entered, they sent us to work in the cowshed and in the fields. This work was not too difficult, and the farmers treated us well. But, after a while the situation of the women worsened. There was a troop of German soldiers in Luban, and during the day they didn't interfere with our jobs, but at night they would bother the women. They slept in a separate house, when it turned dark we locked the doors and the windows and tried to look dirty and ugly. We slept in shifts, some slept and some stood guard. In the morning we would all be tired from the fearful, sleepless night.
I only worked there for one week, but it left a memorable impression on me because during Simhatorah, the Germans came to Luban and took a few healthy, strong men to be killed with the 54 martyrs of our town; killed because the Kurenets police identified them as Communist sympathizers.
In the police force was the trash of the Christian community; especially infamous was the policeman Berzinjuk. Before the Germans entered the area, we hardly knew him. He was illiterate, a slob, cruel and completely ignorant. During the Soviets' time, despite the trend of lowly members of society receiving high positions, he remained a lowly watchman. But now was his chance to take revenge, especially on the Jews. In a very short time everyone reviled his name. He made every Jewish heart fearful.
One day, during early morning hours, a woman entered our home. She was dressed like a villager and with her came a boy about fourteen or fifteen. I came to greet her and I realized that it was Karlova, a Christian woman and the wife of the police chief during the Soviet days. She had lived with us back then. The boy was her brother. When the war started, she was visiting her parents in Minsk and was left there penniless. Now she came to Kurenets to see whether anything was left of her belongings. We had a long talk during which she told us of the situation of the Jews in Minsk, locked in a ghetto. I told her of the situation in Kurenets and informed her that her Christian neighbors Yolka and Melvina had robbed all her belongings. While we were talking, Berzinjuk entered the house. He recognized her when she passed by the police station and without saying anything to anyone he came to arrest her. She begged for pity, but to no avail. I approached him and begged him to let her sleep in our home and to let her return to Minsk the next morning. In return I promised to give him suits that belonged to my father. After a little bit of bargaining he agreed and left.
The next day, early in the morning, Karlova left Kurenets. Many days later, the
partisans murdered Berzinjuk.
Another bloodsucker was Shernegowicz. He was from Kasinjewitz village. He was the very first to look for hiding places that were used by the Jews. Every Jew that he met in the street he would beat up, and sometimes for no reason he would kill him. The blood of many Kurenets residents stained his hands. Whenever we found out that he was approaching, all the Jews would fear for their lives and run to their hiding places.
My father and Nathan Gurevich had a factory that made soap, shoe polish, ink, and other chemicals. For that reason they didn't have to do hard labor, as the Germans needed them. They were allowed to continue factory production. One time, the factory in the next town, which made similar products, produced defective ink, so they ordered my father to go to Vileyka and correct the problem. On his way, he met Shernegowicz. Although my father had licenses and permits to go to Vileyka, Shernegowicz was unable to read the documents so he tore them up and beat him mercilessly. Still, when he came back alive, we were very happy.
There were almost no Jews left in Vileyka; most of them had been killed by that point. So the Germans had no laborers. Now they took Jews from Kurenets and made them live in Vileyka. At the beginning everyone in Kurenets was fearful of moving to Vileyka, as it was known that this was the town where the killing started. But slowly we realized that danger was coming from every direction, and some felt it would be better to separate the family to many different spots so someone would survive. I still remember Pesja Nee Kastrol Alperovich, the wife of Mikhail, she would say, I prefer that some of my children be in Vileyka and others in Kurenets. Maybe we will be blessed that someone will survive. We kept hearing about slaughters that occurred in the neighboring towns, we heard that a few survivors had reached our town, and heard that others who were in hiding sent letters via Christians to their relatives in Kurenets. We realized that our chances of survival were minute, and we knew that the destruction of our town was coming.
Our Rabbi, Moshe Aron Feldman, the pride and glory of our town, his poor soul left his body after many tortures. His body was found in the market with broken arms and legs. Each day, there were new punishments and tragedies of Joban proportions. One Jew was killed because he didn't have gold for the Germans, and another Jew was killed because they found that he was herding gold. One day, old Leib Matosov came to my father and demanded that we leave Kurenets. He said that he knew of secret places in the forest near his old factory that the Germans would never find. He said that we must not sit here idly. We must go to our Christian friends, get rifles and wait for summer to come. Maybe by then the Russians would return.
My father decided to join Leib Matosov, but just at that point, a horrible thing occurred. Ziskind Alparovich, the son of Shimon, with his wife Bashka Hannah, and her son Yikheil, Fabish Shulman with his wife and son Hannan, Berka Hadash, and Joshua Kremer, the son of Mendel and Ashka, were found hiding in the forest near Andreiki. There bodies were brought to Kurenets. In the town, no one knew they left. They had left secretly but someone reported their hiding place. The Germans wanted to make sure that we knew we would be caught if we tried to escape. So now there was a deep depression and many of those who had planned to escape now changed their minds. There was only one group of young men whose spirits did not break, and they continued to plot their revenge. Sometime in the summer, we found out that Elich, the son of Ziskind Alparovich, was killed during a battle between the partisans and the Germans. And we all found out that a group of young men from the town, mostly members of Hashomer Hatzair, boys aged 17 and 18, kept in touch with Russian soldiers that managed to escape the Germans and hid in the villages. Together they planned guerrilla attacks against the Germans. In one of these battles, Eliau was killed. From the boys who took part in this partisan movement, the ones who survived were Zalman Gurevich, Nachum Alparovich, Yankale Orchik Alparovich (who later received many commendations). Amongst the group was Iskelin Einbender, who received many posthumous commendations.
When my father gave up on the idea of escaping, he started turning to religion. Every day he would go to the Minyan and pray. Every day there were new mourners and the line to say the Kaddish was getting longer and longer. When it turned dark people would gather for the Minyan and they would pray. With the first morning light the worshippers would disperse. Each family started building hiding places and kept this information to themselves. They would not tell of their hiding places to their dearest friends, so no one, even if tortured would be able to tell of others' hiding places. Some built hiding places under their homes, and the entrance would lead through a cabinet. Some would be under beds, others inside ovens, some in attics, in holes in their gardens or yards, and some still would hide in sheds. I knew that everyone had hiding places, but I only knew where our own hiding place was. At first it was very simple, kept between the oven and the wall, in a room near the synagogue. It was very difficult to enter and the place was very narrow; you could only stand there. Once Shernegowicz started hunting for Jews not only in the road, but also in their own homes, everyone realized that they must have hiding places to survive.
After several days passed, we decided to build our hiding place above the furnace. For that we had to discontinue the use of the furnace, but we still made it look like nothing had changed. We built a new wall and closed the furnace and had a hiding place inside the chimney. We made a little hole in it so we could have air, and the entrance to this place was through the range top. My father always avoided this hiding place, saying it was as if we were buried alive. Only one time did he use it, when one of the killers by the name of Egov entered our home. We knew from survivors of neighboring towns that the slaughters always started in early morning hours, so we kept surveillance to see if the Germans were surrounding the town.
The night before the slaughter, 9/9/1942, between 3:30 and 4:00 in the morning, my father realized that there was a lot of movement in the market, and that many cars approached the town. That night the town was surrounded by thick fog, and he woke us up and told us that this movement looked very ominous, since he observed that these cars and trucks were loaded with large barrels. Later on we found out that these barrels were filled with incendiaries used to burn the victims. At that point, the Minyan of prayers in our yard was crowded with Jews. Father quickly ran there to tell them that they must escape. The Jews spread all over to return to their homes. My mother and I stood in the window waiting for his return. Daybreak came and we could see him leaving the synagogue. All of a sudden came Germans in uniforms. They caught him and took him with them. His desire to help others lasted till his final moments on earth. When the Germans took him he lifted his head to look at us, and this was our last goodbye.
During the winter of 1942, the Germans made a Christian man the head of the factory. Prior to that, the man was a teacher and we knew him. His name was Tkatchuk. When we saw the Germans take my father, my mother approached Tkatchuk and asked him to save my father as a professional man. We entered his room through our yard. He was already awake and said nothing to us, but only sent us to his attic to hide. The attic was big and originally two families, brothers Ziskind and Mendel Alparovich, used it. The one window in the attic was very high and we couldn't see anything, but we could hear horrible shrieks and screams and cries of children and women, and many shots and sounds of cars going back and forth. And this occurred through the entire day. Every moment of that day we feared that the door would open and they would catch us. We also heard familiar sounds of different Christian inhabitants that spoke Belorussian and were walking from home to home to look for hiding Jews. The apartment of Ziskind Alparovich was empty since the Germans killed the last of the people who lived there, the last residence was Matarosz, a Christian Polish man who used to be the head of the public school. During the German time he became the city mayor, but when the Germans found out that he was involved in underground activities, they killed him with his entire home.
Now only the watchman lived in the house. His name was Stach the Short. He knew nothing of our hiding in the attic and we were very fearful that he would decide to search the area and search the area. We lay like this for two days. On the second evening we heard the Christians yelling while they were looking for Jews. We practically stopped breathing. We could hear Stach telling them that he would with pleasure give up any Jew to the Germans if he caught one, but here there are no Jews and there is no reason to look for them. The house, he continued, was under his watch the entire day and he saw no one coming. He must have convinced the Christian mob that there are no Jews because they left shortly to go to other homes while screaming, kill the Jews! For three days and three nights we were hiding in the attic. Each night Tkatchuk would open the door and give us bread but he never gave us anything to drink. Probably since he was so fearful and confused he forgot that we were thirsty. On Saturday evening we heard Tkatchuk and his girlfriend fighting. His girlfriend had just arrived from Vileyka and had found about our hiding in the attic and didn't like it. We knew that we had to leave the place immediately. Later that night, Tkatchuk explained that although the day of the slaughter was long gone, some of the Christian population was continuing to look for Jews, so there is really no reason for us to endanger ourselves and him too. We had to leave. I wanted to leave the day before but my mother was very weak and refused to leave, but now we had no choice. We decided to leave at 1:00 AM to the village Kalin. We asked of one thing from Tkatchuk: to put a pail full of water in the yard to quench our thirst. We said our goodbyes and drank. Stealthily we went to our yard. Our home was locked. We crossed our yard and then to the yard of Netka Charnez and then to the ally and to the market near the house of Itzhak Zimmerman (Charles Gelman's father). From afar in the pharmacy we could hear the sounds of German soldiers. We walked barefoot and very quietly to Kosita Street. We had to cross the train tracks without the guards detecting us. This was the only road to Kalin. We crawled to the other side of the road near the house of the track watchman and quickly crossed the tracks. We were still nearby when all of a sudden a train began to a approach and the whole area was lit. We quickly lay on the ground until the train left. We continued going by the cemetery envious of all the people that had died naturally. When we reached Kalin it was 3:00 AM. I approached the window of the school where the Smetinko family now lived. I knocked on the door and the door was immediately opened as if they were waiting for us. They were very happy to see us and were very warm and understanding and encouraged us. They thought that if they would not invite us to the apartment we would be insulted to they invited us. But we refused. We asked to hide in the barn, which was some distance from the house. The barn was big and full of hay and had a pleasant smell of fields. So now after three sleepless nights, we quickly fell asleep.
I can't describe the beautiful way that the family treated us, and the way they encouraged us and felt sympathy for us. They would say Remember. You are heroines. You didn't let them kill you. You survived. And this is truly heroic. You must remember that you are heroines. You are not victims, you are heroes. Every night at midnight the old man that was seventy years old got up and took us out to breathe some fresh air and to relieve ourselves. Three times a day our daughter would bring us food using baskets or pails so none of the neighbors would realize that we were hiding there. She brought the best of foods. The old man would sit with us and tell us how during World War I he helped eighteen people hide under his barn, and they all survived. Every few days he would go to Kurenets to see what was going on there. He kept in touch with the Jewish pharmacist Lunya Shnayorson and his wife, Riva, the only remaining living Jews in Kurenets. He told us the good news that many survivors were going to gather in the forest. He also told us some tragic stories. He told us about Meyir Tzirolnik from Dolhinov Street. A Christian inhabitant of the town found his hiding place a few days after the slaughter and took him to the Germans. He also said that a Christian, Vlodka Stenkivitch, the son of Mishka murdered the entire Sandler and Bevinar family when he found them hiding in the attic of the synagogue. He used his ax to kill them. It was getting cold and rain began to become a frequent thing. Smetinko and his daughter kept telling us, Don't worry. You have a place to stay. We will provide for you and you will be with us until the end of the war. We saw how they risked their lives from pure desire to save us. Daily they were fearful that the Germans would come looking for Jews. Smetinko's wife had heart disease so they didn't tell her about our hiding there. Smetinko was not the owner of the place. There was a woman that he had rented the place from. This woman didn't know about our hiding there. Although she knew me from the time I was a teacher at the school there and we had a good relationship. After staying there for three weeks, the Harvest day came, and they needed to use the barn where we were hiding. So the evening before, they took us to the attic of the house, since they knew some strangers would come to the house.
The next morning we were awoken by the sounds of policemen and German soldiers
saying, Where are the Jews hiding? Get out of there. We lay in the
attic quietly until they left. As soon as they departed, the homeowner came to
the attic. We were primarily frightened and didn't know what she wanted but she
explained her delight in knowing that we survive, and that she also wanted to
help us. We asked Smetinko to communicate with the other surviving Jews and
tell them that we want to meet with them. Although we really appreciate what he
had been doing for us, we couldn't risk his life any longer. Meanwhile, the
police went to the other side of the village. We used the momentary sangfroid
to run to the forest that was 100 meters away from the house. We decided
to hide in the forest until nighttime and then we planned on walking to the
Bordina forest, where we knew the Jews were hiding. Smetinko left for Kurenets.
There he talked with Lunya Shnayorson, and they arranged for a Christian man by
the name of Ignale Birok to wait for us in the field across from the Christian
cemetery, and from there he would take us to the forest where the other
surviving Jews were staying. In the evening, Smetinko's daughter and the
homeowner, Mrs. Charivitz came to us and dressed us in laborer clothes as if we
were village girls. This was the season of collecting potatoes so they gave us
baskets filled with potatoes as if we were returning from work. We were
supposed to leave the village at 6:30 pm, which is prior to the time when
the Germans watch the train tracks. We tied kerchiefs to our heads. We put our
shoes in our baskets that were also filled with food. We said our goodbyes and
thank you's and left. I was very fearful of meeting someone who was a resident
of Ivonovitz since they all knew me from the time I was a teacher there. But we
passed the road and train tracks safely. It became dark when we finally arrived
to the road between Kurenets and Vileyka, which were across from the graveyard.
This was the spot where we were supposed to meet Ignale Birok. We heard the
sound of approaching horse and buggy. We put our baskets by a tree and hid
behind it. All of a sudden a second carriage arrived with many passengers. They
saw us and started yelling at and chasing us. We ran to the fields, hiding
behind bushes. All of a sudden we heard our code words and saw Ignale Birok. We
ran behind him in the fields till we reached the forest of Bordina, and there
he took us to the family of Natan Gurevich, Rashka Alperovitz, Shoyl Gordin,
Shimon Alperovitz, the son of Zishka Aperovitz and Baska Chana, and a refugee
family that lived in Kurenets [Shalom Yoran's family]. The next day we all left
for the big pushtsta, a hiding place in the big forest, where we met the rest
of the survivors from the Kurenitz slaughter.
In the first few days we didn't dare to light a fire in fear of the shepherds. At nights the fires warmed us only in front, and the back was already cold. Right from the start we walked barefooted, since our shoes were lost during the first night, when we ran from Klini. We baked the potatoes in the burning ashes under the fire. One evening, when one of the girls who sat with us tried to take the potatoes out of the fire, unintentionally she moved the hot ashes right on my bare feet. The burns were bad; there were no medical supplies, and thus no way to put a bandage on. Mom had to walk alone to the village to gather food. During one visit to Noviki village one of the peasants recognized my mother and became very excited. He told her how, many years ago, my father returned him a financial loss, and therefore he fed us and promised to weave some sort of sandals for us. For our sorrow these sandals didn't last long, and in the first winter in the forest I walked on the snow with bare feet wrapped with old rags. During that time mom got a pair of boots she used up to the liberation.
In that winter partisans came to the forest, and among them was one from our hometown, Yakov Alperovitch. He offered to help us organize, and with the help of the partisans to cross the front to Russia. This plan seemed to us like salvation. We knew that the road east was be tough and that we'd have to move in a big group, on damaged roads, and mostly at nights. In addition, we had to equip our selves with food, but I couldn't go to the village, being so badly burned, and so, we left with little food only. On the way we passed a railroad and were ambushed in the first night. Some members of our group managed to go through, but the majority, us included, stayed in the forest, we were hiding in it all day long and didn't know that we were under the Germans' noses. After a day of tension we went back to the poshtza from which we left a day earlier.
The fear from the oncoming winter was great. The questions that bothered us were: what will we do after the first snow falls and our tracks will give us away to the local farmers when they come for wood, or the shepherds or the Germans? From where will we get food for the winter? How will we build a shelter for the cold nights to come? We had to find answers to these questions. We had to make a permanent place for the winter. Some people started planning for those measures. We lacked the tools and therefore were hungry most of the time. We joined the Gurevich, Charnas and Shogol families that were already equipped with working tools and started digging. The ground was made from frozen clay, and the work went on slowly. I did my best to put a shoulder in on the work. After the digging was done we needed logs to build the inside of the hole. We learned to chop wood, saw it, and move to the site. We needed clay, bricks and covers for oven, which will be used for cooking and heating. The rest of the group without our help built the stoves. After the zimlanka, measuring 3 on 3, was done, 18 people lived in it. The part that was above ground level was covered with thin logs and moss, on top was a layer of dirt for camouflage. Inside it was divided in two, in the entrance stood the oven, and next to it the women were cooking potatoes and the second part was made of double bunks. On top it was very warm, and below it was very cold. The main food eaten was potatoes, but we didn't have anything to cook it in until we received a small can. We also lacked a knife, and it made it very difficult for the entire group, because they had to share theirs with us. Finally the biggest problem was hygiene since we had no soap, no combs, and spare clothing we could change into.
During one of the evenings we left, mom and me, to the village and came back bruised and frightened. It appeared that Jews came into the village at night and stole from the fences some laundry and tools and we paid for their actions. On the way back in the forest we encountered a pack of wolves, and saw their shining eyes. The sight was terrifying. The hunger made us crazy, we had no people like Byelski, who helped and guided Jewish people.
Each time we entered a peasant's hut while they were eating, we blessed them beteavon, and hoped they would invite us in. During the winter we were attacked and Jews from Kurenitz and the surroundings, who were hiding but a few kilometers from us, were killed. It was our luck that the Germans didn't reach us during that first winter in the forest. On the dawn of Passover 1943, while we were sleeping, a partisan came from the nearby village and informed us the Germans were coming. In a short distance there was a swamp and by preplanned strategy we started running towards it. The German gunfire was soon heard, we didn't know where to go, or even where we were, we were like wild animals escaping a hunter. During our escape we discovered suddenly that we were exposed and that the German dogs were on our trail. We changed direction, doing our best to stay away from the shooting, and realized that Leah Gurevich was with us. To ease her run she had to throw away her coat and by that saved her life.
With night fall the barking of the German dogs faded away and we understood
that the Germans had left the forest. After recognizing the spot where our
hiding place was we found that it was all ruined and that one of our members
was taken alive by the attackers. In another hiding place, a few hundred meters
from ours a four-year-old girl was killed in her mother's arms and the mother
was left alive.
In the end of our first year in the forest my mother got very weak and couldn't go to the villages any more. In those days the partisans became very strong and we could walk in daylight to the villages. They were practically controlled by the partisans and the Germans were afraid to enter them. Then we moved to Zaziria forests. One day Salim came to our camp, after a long absence. He brought us a leather gun pouch and a piece of flannel, from which I sewed my mom some underwear. With time my boots were repaired with the piece of leather, and held on to the end of the war.
A short time after moving to Zaziria forests came the youth from Vilna. Some members of our group were accepted into the partisans, and us, the fires left the women, old men and children, again.
Then, one morning, a rumor started that Germans equipped with many weapons were coming from the fronts to fight the partisans and the forest inhabitants. The siege started in surprise, and we could see everybody running away. We started running as well, without knowing where to. In the general rush we managed to see Shogol with a group of partisans signaling us to follow. The partisans didn't let us, the Jews, to go near them, but we followed in their path into the huge swamp. In wintertime, when the ground was covered with a thick layer of ice, we would use a certain trail to go in the swamp, but the locals knew about a different way to enter the swamp during the summer. This path was the escape route of the partisans. Our feet sank deep in the mud and walking was very difficult, the two kids in our group had great difficulties to move on and we just barely made it to the rest place. The partisans stayed away from us and we sat on the wet moss, hungry and tired. In the first night we were afraid to put on a fire. The day after showed up in our place a Jew from the town of Uzla, named Shulman. He had a rich experience in life, after spending years in a Siberian camp in Russia. During the 30's he was sent back to Poland and ran a mill over there. When the Germans conquered the area he and his family hid in the swamp with the help of a Christian friend. They built their camouflaged tent so well that even we, who were right next to them, didn't notice it. They lived off their old property that was partially hidden with their gentile friend. The following day Shulman brought us a bucket of soup made of flour and water, and some bread for the kids, and we were happy. During the next few days we heard shooting and explosions from afar, but the Germans didn't get to our spot. After an eight day siege the Germans withdrew, leaving their casualties behind as well as Jewish and partisan casualties.
Later we were told that many of the Germans drowned in those swamps. My friend who had come from Vilna only a short while before the siege had also been killed along with many others.
After the siege the partisans started regrouping in the forest where we were hiding. The peasants were afraid of the partisans, and dared not expelling us without giving us some supplies. Life was held out in daylight and we were much eased. Once I went with a boy from our camp to Brusi village, and suddenly noticed a group of cops sitting around a table laid with vodka and food. They started interrogating us about our camp and of the partisan brigade in the area. I told them that we only came to seek a piece of bread and that we know not any partisans. My answer didn't satisfy them and they started shouting and demanding information, threatening to kill us like dogs if we didn't answer. Since we told them nothing, they put us against the wall, held a gun at us and started counting: one, two well guys, it's good you didn't say anything about the partisans, we heard you Jews will give them away for a piece of bread and there you stood honorably in the test. I started crying from the insult and the fear and we took off to the forest.
In that same time we started planning a hiding place for our second winter in the forest. This time the work was much easier. Now we choose the spot in soft ground, thus making it easy to dig in. We also had sufficient tools with us. With Haya Gurevich and her relatives we built the bunker and together got hold of a horse and wagon. We drove to the burned village of Loje to disassemble ovens that were exposed after the big fire and use the bricks to build our shelter. With the iron we found we took the ovens apart and put the bricks on our wagon, and suddenly the horse refused to move on. And so we went on by pulling the wagon until we got back to our camp with the precious bricks.
The final result was that our shelter was satisfactory, we were only nine inside, and with time we gathered enough wood for the winter.
I got a new needle as a gift and started repairing our worn out clothes. In our
free time we sat on the mat or near the oven, and I would tell stories to the
two kids and practicing mathematics with them. To the adults I told the
contents of movies and books from before the war, and singing songs in Russian,
Hebrew and Yiddish expressed the sorrow and nostalgia.
In our next stop, Urdia-mara, we stayed for a month, because the road to Israel via the black sea was blocked. The Russians were already in Romania. After a month in Romania we came back to Budapest, and from Hungary to Gretz in Austria. We stayed in the luxurious Vitzer hotel, which used to host Goebbels. The hotel was luxurious but we didn't have any food, and so were transferred to the international refugee camp in Lankovitz. After staying there for a week we were returned to Gretz. Here was the main headquarters for the Zionist organizations taking care of the illegal immigration to Israel. We received an order as partisans to cross the border to Italy. This border was closed for a month and all the trains carrying refugees were sent back to Austria. The British liberation forces, posted in Italy and Austria at that time, got hold of the connection with the Jewish soldiers from Israel, and found out that they were helping in moving the remnants from the Holocaust to Israel. That was why the border was closed for us. Following an order, we moved on to Vylech in a train and from there on to the border on foot. We had to cross the border on a rope bridge through the Alps. We got to the bridge by daylight, but the guard in charge sent us back to Austria. During that day we hid in a nearby forest, and at night when we got back to the bridge there was no guard. We passed the border without any problems to Italy. A light rain was falling and we were in total darkness. We could not advance and waited for the morning to come. When dawn came we recognized by a description we received prior to leaving our whereabouts. We stayed all day long in the mountains, and at nightfall where about to descend towards Terevizo without entering it. We assigned into couples when suddenly a guy from our group arrived with the message that a car from the brigade is waiting for us in the exit from Terevizo, and indeed it did. We were put inside enclosed pickup trucks and drove on to Puntebe, where was situated an Israeli unit from the brigade that took care of the illegal immigration to Israel.
Since the border we crossed was closed for a month, family members who passed were cut-off from their relatives in Austria. When they found out our group managed to pass, many of the refugees came to see us. An acquaintance I met gave me rejoicing news. He told me that my brother from Israel is a soldier in the British Army and is in Milan, He knows we're saved and is looking for us. This knowledge struck us numb. My brother was in Israel since 1933, but since the war broke we lost contact with him. The excitement was in its peak. In the morning we found a letter from my brother, where he asked us to wait for him in Puntebe, if we reach it before he does, given he fact he's looking for us in Austria. When my brother, who was equipped with British Army authorization, couldn't find us in Gretz, he came back in a train to the border. On the way, in Clegenport, he met Rivka Alperovitch and the others, and found out from them that we were about to cross the border on that day. On the train he met a group of partisans who tried as well to cross the border, like us. For a bribe, which was paid to the train worker, the partisans were loaded into an enclosed wagon and my brother sealed it from the outside. When they passed the border my brother opened it up and let them out, and thus all were witness to the exciting meeting with my brother.
My brother took us to Milan, where his unit was stationed, and for two months he and his friends, among who was Hertzel, my husband to be, tried to make our stay as pleasant as possible, but then my mother had a heart attack. On October 25th 1945 we left Milan. After my mom's recovery we traveled to Rome and Venice and on November the 8 th we arrived in Israel due to my Brother, with a legal status. After 62 hours in rough sea, in a military boat carrying 800 people; we reached the shores of Israel. From the port of Haifa we were transferred to Atlit, and the day after received permission to leave. We had taxis put up for us, and since my mother had a sister in Tel-Aviv, we drove there.
On the way we enjoyed the orange groves we saw for the first time in our life. It was a Friday, and from the windows of every house we saw candles lit for Shabbat. The reunion between my mother and her sister, as well as our reunion with the rest of the family was hearty and joyous.
These were our first steps in Israel.
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