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[Pages 257-266]

In the Vostok Territory

by Abraham Aharon, son of Naftali Alperovich

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

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Abraham Aharon Alperovich

September 1942

We arrived at the big Pushtza ( deep in the forest place) and continued our “traditional living arrangement” form our shtetl. Once again, we were neighbors of Zadok and Rushka Shavetz and their two daughters, Sonka and Perla. The members of my family who survived the slaughter in Kurenets and managed to escape to the forest, were my sisters, Raicha, Relka, and I.

Now, we lived in huts, deep in the forest, and the Shavetz's hut was right next to ours. During the night, we would go together to the villages at the far edge of the forest to beg for food. One night, we reached the village Villeivitz. We passed through there and we were able to receive bread, vegetables, and a little bit of salt. Some of the residents told us that a son of one of the villagers works for the German police, so we had to be extremely careful from now on when we come for food. It was already after midnight when we finally decided to return with the food to the Pushtza. It was during autumn, so it was already very cold and that night there was a rain storm. we were still extremely tired from the long walk to get to this village. So after a short walk Zadok suggested that we find a bath house in the village and spend the rest of the night there and return to the forest during the early morning hours.

Zadok volunteered to look for a bath house to sleep in and we set in hiding to wait for him. We sat just outside the village, waited and waited, and Zadok did not return. An hour passed, two, three hours. We sat there through the cold night with the wind blowing upon us. We sat as if we were sitting on burning coals. We said to each other, "What happened to Zadok? Could he be caught by someone?"

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Abraham Aharon with Zionists friends in Kurenets before the war

I was feeling particularly guilty. Why did I let him go alone? I suggested that we should go and see what had happened to him. We returned to the village. This village was extremely long. The first villager we saw, we asked, but he said he knew nothing. Dawn came and we knew that it would be very dangerous for us to stay there so we quickly left for the Pushtza without Zadok or any information about his fate. When we got to the Pushtza, we met with some partisans who had just returned and we told them what had happened. To our great surprise, they knew all about it and the head of the partisans informed us that Zadok was wounded by his partisans by mistake. A bullet hit his calf and the partisans put him on a horse and took him to the village of Asneivitz near Neyaka.

There they carried him to one of the villagers door and informed the villager that they brought a wounded Jew. They ordered the villager to hide him in his barn and warned him that if he gave him away to the Germans, his house would be burned and he would be murdered. They promised the villager that they would come to take Zadok the next day and bring him back to the forest, and once again warned him that he should tell no one, not even his own wife, about the wounded Jew.

At eleven at night, some guys from Neyaka and I went to Asneivitz to fetch Zadok. The villager took us to his barn and there laid Zadok, his leg covered with blood, but his wound was bandaged So we carried him all the way to the forest. On the way to the hideout, he asked us to go to his wife Rushka and his girls and let them know that he is fine. He was in extreme pain, but he was very brave. We took him to one of the huts and the Jewish doctor Zrinski who lived there took care of his wound.

This occurrence happened while the Jews of the big Pushtza were planning to go to the Vostok. Rushka knew that they now had no chance to be among the people who would go to the Vostok and that she and her family would have to stay at the big Pushtza. She cried for days, during that point of time, we all saw the Vostok as a haven from the brutal life in the forest, here in the forest we were hiding from the Germans and their collaborators, we had been living in little huts exposed to the elements, while winter was approaching. The Vostok we were told, was controlled by the Russian partisans. People prepared for the departure for days, both emotionally and physically. The partisans gave each group a few guides and the Jews stated preparing bread, toast, salt, shoes, and especially lapses(type of Shoes the farmers wore). The ones that could afford the lapses prepared two or three pairs for the very long walk. There was a Jewish shoe maker from Krivichi, he was sitting in his hut in the forest all day preparing shoes.

I was among the very first group to depart the Pushtza. With us, there were fifty-four people, most of whom were from Kurenets. Some were also from Molodetchna. The Shochet from Krivichi, the Rogovin family from Vileyka. We had a guide, a partisan with a rifle. We came to say good-bye to our dear neighbors, Zadok, and the girls. That proved to be very emotional parting.

Among the people from Kurenets who I remember going with us, were Michail Gurfenkail, Yoshka and his sister Feiga Alperovich, the children of Mendel, Hilka, son of Netta Zimmermann and his wife Freidl., Reuven- Zishka and his wife Marka and their children, Motik and Abraham, Shimon, son of Zishka Alperovitch, Yenta and her sister Rachael Dinerstien, Archick, son of Gutza Dinerstien, Chetskel Zimmerman, (later changed his name to Charles Gelman), my sisters Raicha and Relka, and myself.

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Avraham Aharon as a teacher before the war

During the days of the Soviets, 1939-1941, I was a teacher in the little town of Kriesk that was located between Ilya and Dolhinov, I was very familiar with the area that we were going to go through, so I took upon myself the mission to guide our group. When we crossed the train tracks near Neyaka, all of a sudden, we saw five rifles pointing at us. They pointed but did not shoot. It turned out to be the partisans. I asked them how they knew not to shoot. They said that our language saved us. "We heard that you were speaking Yiddish and by now we can clearly tell Yiddish from German."

There were five partisans. They were waiting for the German train to come by, so they could plant explosives. They said that when they were done with their job, they would meet us in the forest near Sosenka and help us. We passed the way peacefully and reached the forest by Sosenka and I must confess my "crime". During a few minutes that the group took for rest, my two sisters and I fell asleep. When we woke up, we saw that everyone had left. It was around three in the morning. I was supposed to be the guide! We quickly ran and somehow found the rest of the group in the dark.

Light came and we sat in the forest to wait for the partisans. Around three in the afternoon, only two of them arrived. They told us that during the mission, the three others were killed. When nighttime came, we crossed the river Viliya in the most shallow area that we could find and reached the village Zabalota. This was one of the villages where I used to teach. I knocked on the door of my old landlord and he received me very graciously. This area, was clear of German at that point. The Germans were patrolling only in specific central locations near the train tracks but in the village itself, there were no Germans. I walked across the village, remembering the days when I would be greeted as a very respected person. They'd harness their horses for me and treated me like I was an important personality. And now, I crossed the village secretly and in fear.

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Avraham Aharon as a teacher before the war

My landlord agreed to come with me to greet the rest of the people in my group and he told all of us that at that moment, there were no Germans in the area, but that we should be very careful and watch our steps. He told us a horrible story of what happened a few days prior. Seventy Jewish people, escapees from the town Mydell, walked across one of the villages in the area and had stolen two lambs from a farm. The Christian villages reported the incident to the Germans who were patrolling the nearby area and during a time when the group was resting in the forest, the German police surrounded them and killed almost everyone. Only a few had managed to escape. He once again warned us that we must go only at night time and very quietly at that.

We were dressed very poorly and if these days were like the regular old days, it would have been very funny. But at this moment, we were surrounded by a world of horror and tragedy and humor was hard to come by. Still, there was one person who received his fate with good spirits, at least outwardly. This was Michail Gorfenkel. He had a towel tied around his head and another towel tied to his waist. He carried a small bag for putting the goods he begged for into, but he was always in good spirits. His good spirit helped not only him, but the rest of us. I remember him saying was, "One thing that I wish for myself right now, is for someone to take a picture of what I look like at this moment. After the day of victory, if I survive, I will enlarge it and put it in my bedroom, across from my bed." But Michael did not get either wishes. He never got a photograph and he did not survive.

I also remember Artzik Gutze's Dinerstien. He had a huge fur coat that he never separated from. When we were walking through the forest, we felt very sorry for him. He kept tripping over his coat. But we were very jealous during the cold nights. After many, many troubles and wandering, we passed the old Russian-Polish border, the border prior to 1939. We passed near Pleshentznitz, about 10km from Poloshnitz. A few days later, the first snow fell. We didn't dare go to the local homes. We slept in the forest. The weather was very cold and only one person had the appropriate clothes: Archick, the owner of the fur coat.

I still remember the suffering of the children of Zishka and Rogovin. During the night, we would go to the villages. I always chose Michael as my partner. I would leave my sisters in the forest. The area we arrived at was almost all at the hands of the partisans and villagers were very scared of them. Michael would tie a stick to his shoulder and in the dark, the villagers thought he was a true partisan. This was not the only tactic that Michael used to get food. He used to sing songs to the villagers. He would sing the song, "Katyusha" or "Yasili Zvatra Vyana" so the "rifle" would scare them at night and the songs would soften them and even get them excited, so they would usually give us good items. I liked Michael a lot. Even in the darkest hours, he was in good spirits. And in songs and jokes, he could overcome the difficulties and spread joy to his surroundings. Sometimes we would even forget our troubles.

One night, when we crossed a village, Michael told me, "You know, Abraham, I am really getting tired of eating only bread. Let's go catch us a chicken and prepare us some chicken soup." So we went to a chicken coop and tried to get a chicken. As it turned, there were more geese then chickens in the coop, and in the dark, we caught a goose and he started making very loud noises and woke the entire village. Michael had no choice but to let go of the goose and run. We both ran for our lives. When we reached the forest, Michael said, "I could never imagine that a chicken and a goose could live in the same room. During this war, all order and life rules had changed. But I would never give up and one day I will bring back a chicken to the forest, although I really crave a goose at the moment , but geese don't know the rules of danger and can bring disaster."

Two weeks passed since we left to get to the Vostok. We reached the partisan area near Oshuetz. Matrina and Gomel near Polochek. Here, we were much freer. The Germans were headquartered in Polochek and Matrina and the rest of the area was free of them so our situation improved tremendously. We slept in the houses of the villagers, staying here for three weeks. Then we decided to continue toward the Vostok, going east eventually we planned, to cross the front and reach the USSR area passed the fighting. Our guide was the partisan Vanya. The road was almost impossible. The snow was very unstable and our lapsas, the shoes we wore, were extremely wet. So every night and day when we were resting, we would spend hours trying to dry our lapses and our shoes. We would try to dry them next to bonfires and using the fireplaces of the homes of the villagers. The villagers here treated us very nicely. Some of them even gave us their beds and they slept on top of the furnaces. They would repair our shoes and warm their bath houses so we could wash ourselves.

In the village, Voloki, I once walked with Michael in an area that turned to be a river that froze. The frozen layer broke and we fell in the water. Lucky for us, it wasn't too deep and we managed to get out. Michael said, "This world is very confusing. Everyone goes to the river during the summer and we are swimming in the winter, as if we are professional sportsmen! I never imagined that I would turn into such a sportsman!"

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