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Resistance (cont.)

In the Deep of the Pushtza

So we were back at the Pushtza, winter was coming, and the Jews were spread in an area that was 20 km long and 15 km wide. All around there were huge trees. It was forever dark forests that no one ever walked through before. The farmers in the surrounding area would only go to the edges of that forest. On the other side there were wet lands, swamps you could not cross during summer. It was home to wild animals. And here the Jews walk around. everyday they must go to the villages begging, demanding and even threatening just to get a little bit of potatoes.

At the beginning the Belorussians were helpful. They would give them food, some from pity and others fearing revenge. But when the “Jew sickness” continued, meaning they wanted food every day, they changed their attitude. From refusal to mocking, from put downs to physical fights. They would even hit women and old men. In a few cases they used knives. Only the fear of the partisans prevented them from killing the Jews. And where were the partisans now?!, they were all gone to other forests.

I helped my family to build Zimlanka, a hide out deep in the ground. We built a beautiful Zimlanka. Winter came and I was ready for revenge, I wanted to fight but I didn't know who I can join. I met with Yerachmiel and other Jews from Nyakee everyone said “what can we do?, how can we join the fighters?”

On Jan 11, 1943 I managed to get to Volkovishtzena. The village was all burned and I was told that the Germans hung Nikoli Shirutzin and his wife. Ivan managed to escape and very likely joined the partisans. I couldn't find any of the old contacts. I tried to connect to some other partisans. On Feb 17 I went to meet with partisan group called Kerkosovtzi. I walked the whole day through the snow. At first they were very receptive. I drank vodka with them but when they got drunk they started talking badly about the Jews. I started arguing with them, but I still asked to join their group. They made fun of me and at the end of the evening they said, “Go to Hell.”

One evening in the middle of March 1943 I sat in our Zimlanka, all of a sudden the door opens and Yitzkale Einbinder enters. He was dressed with a new fur coat, with a Cossacks hat. He looked very healthy, the boy became a man. He was armed with an automatic weapon and a gun. We were very happy to see each other. He already knew about the slaughter at Kurenitz, but had no idea what happened to his family. He knew that so many Jews had escaped and are alive spread all over the woods between Kurenitz and Lapell, and was hoping to find his family alive. He knew that when he left them, they had a hiding place. For a few minutes we talked around the subject, he was afraid to ask and I was afraid to tell. Finally my father took him outside and told him the bitter truth, “your family was shot and burned.” He went into the Zimlanka and cried like a baby.

After a long time he told us what happened to him and Nachoom Alperovich and Nyomka Shulman, After they left Kurenitz with Xina, they met with Lonka Vorbiyov who was holding our printing material. They reached one of the brigades of Didia Vasia,” Norody Mastetel”, The National Revenge. After they stayed there for a short time it was decided that they would join a group that was going to cross the border. The group included a large amount of Jews, women and children and at the head was a wounded captain. They were taken from one partisan area to another, 100's of kms. Nyomka got sick, got exema all over his body and his feet were in terrible shape. As farther they went the camp became more and more populated. They were joined by wounded women ad children. When they successfully crossed the border at the town of Valish, they were separated to once who joined the red army, wounded and sick people who went to the hospital, people who went further inland and some were sent to a school to train to become terrorists.

Nyomka and Yitzhak were immediately sent to the school in the vicinity of Smolensk. There they learned the rules of terrorism in detail. A few days later Nachoom joined them in the school. Nyomka situation was worsening. The exema spread all over his body. When he put his belt with the weapons around his waist he was not able to buckle the belt. The army headquarter suggested that he should go to the hospital but he refused, he wanted to go back to Belarus and fight. Shortly before the end of the studies, Nachoom was taken to work in an army printing press and all his begging to go to the front lines didn't help. Nyomka and Yitzhak finished their studies and were sent to Spetzs grofa a special terrorist unit. On their way west, they met Nachoom.

At a later time during a battle after blowing up a German train, Nyomka Shulman son of Aaron and Rachel, was killed. He told me that in a short time Nyomka's name was well known as a fighter that would takes the most dangerous mission. As if Nyomka wanted to forget Kurenitz faith by revenging the enemy.

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Nyomka Shulman

Yitzkale Einbinder suggested that I join Spetz grofa who was headed by Orlov. I went with him. This was a small unit that most of their actions were terrorist actions, derailing trains. Yitzkale had radio technician named Lydka with him. she was his lover. Our first mission was to help the Jew who were in very bad shape. We enter the villages in the vicinity of Kurenitz and Kribitz and took the cows from German collaborators and then would take them to the woods to give the Jews.

From Yitzkale and his friends I learned how to use explosives on the train tracks to derail the trains. We never lacked explosives, they would bring them from Palik, eastern Belarus. They had a small airport in the middle of the woods and there they had regular schedule landing of aircraft's filled with ammunition from USSR.

Yitzkale started drinking and this made his situation very dangerous. He would volunteer to every mission even if it had no hope of success. He didn't have anyone above him and his wish for revenge made him crazy. One day he decided to visit a girl he used to like, Victoria who lived right next to Kurenitz, 150 meters from the train tracks that were patrolled extremely well at that period.

Yitzkale, his girlfriend lydka and I took a sled to a farm not far form Kurenitz. He continued alone to Kurenitz. At the edge of town he left his horse and walked through town. He wanted to see his parent's house. From one of the houses he heard voices of Germans, but he was bitter and couldn't care less about being seen . He continued walking and reached the house of our Christian friend Kula Greenspitz. He couldn't find Victoria. She was now a girlfriend of a German policeman so he stayed with Greenspitz and got drunk. Greenspitz brought him back to our hide out, he was lucky this time, but for how long?. That evening we had a huge fight. I talked to him about his drinking problem and I said that revenge is right but you must know who and at what time to avenge and you must plan ahead. He told me “it is easy for you to talk quietly about revenge, you saved your family. How about me, I left them to fight for themselves.”

Later he sobered up and we continued to be friends as before. Two months we were together, twice we went together to blow up train tracks. His problem was that he would never allow anyone else to place the explosives. He went on the tracks alone and set up the explosives alone. This was the way my friend Yitzhak Einbinder was.

In a short time I became one of the guys and with Yitzhak's help I got some respect. Two days before he left the group we decided to avenge one of the two gentiles that brought the Germans to the Tzintzivi forest and caused the battle where our friend Eliyahu Alperovich was killed. We knew their names. One was the forester Silak and the other was a polish man by the name Bovsovski that served the Germans as an informant. He lived in the village Torovishnitza. Yitzhak, some Christian partisans and I went to the Vishna village and asked where Boshovistki lived. Everyone was scared to let us know. We went to the soltis, the head of the village and we asked where Boshovotski lives. He answered that he left the village. Yitzkale took the Soltis to the barn and told him to tell him where he was or he would shoot him, He took a gun to his head. The daughter of the Saltis came out of the house and began begging for her father's life she kissed Yitzkale's hand begging. Yitzkale started hitting the Soltis with the rifle but he refused to talk. Finally the daughter could not take it any more and told us where Boshivski lived. We threatened them that if they would make a sound we would burn the whole village.

We approached Bovoshiski's house that was located in the center of the village. He lived in a beautiful house, he was well off. Mainly from the belongings of the Kurenitz Jews. Yitzhak went to the window and knocked. “Open immediately” he yelled. A man approached the window and asked, “Who is calling so late?” Yitzhak told him that we were the police. One of the partisans was wearing a police uniform, he entered the door and Boshuvoski walked to the entrance with a gun in his hand. The partisan said, “Don't you see I am a cop, what is wrong of you, since when are you afraid of the police and greet them with a gun?” Boshoviski said, “Who knows, there are a lot of suspicious people around, you can never be sure.” The house inside was dark, we all came in and demanded to put on the lights. When he did it we all pointed our weapons and took the gun from his hand. Yitzkale approached him and slapped him twice and said, “You bastard, you know who is Ruven Zishka from Kurenitz? And you know his son Elik, the Jew who was killed in the tzintzivi forest?” Boshovoski became pale and begged for his life. He claimed he was not the one to take the Germans to the woods and how he helped the Kurenitz Jews after the slaughter. Yitzhak said “bring out all the possessions you have that belong to the Jews, if you do that we will not kill you.” Boshovoski started bringing out all kind of leather goods like boots and clothes. We knew it was not all. We collected everything into a bag. We told him to bring out all the weapons he had. He swore he only had one gun. We hit him with the gun. he screamed and we told him to stop screaming. We told his family to stand near the wall with their hands up. When he saw their death was coming he reached for the table, moved it, and from under the floor he took out one rifle, two guns and ammunition. One of the partisans kept the family members inside the house, we took the weapons and bag and put it on a sled. Yitzkale took his gun and shot Boshoviski. We took their kerosene lamps and lit the house on fire but we left the rest of the family untouched.

Next we took the Soltis and his daughter to Luban where the main German headquarters was located. We beat up the Soltis and then released him saying, “ Go and tell the Germans in Luban that the Partisans were here and they are Jews from Kurenitz.” Two days later Yitzhak and two other partisans left for Palik. I never saw him again. Sometime later he was killed in action.

Yitzkale was an amazing fighter especially with explosives. He was known all around by the names Viktor and Vitka or the “fearless”. His name stirred huge fear amongst the collaborators with the Germans and the Soltis. He was famous throughout the whole region. His name was admired by partisans and hated by farm people. To me he was a wonderful guy. He exemplified the essence of the partisan in his behavior and in his appearance. He revenged as many collaborators as he could but always with a sense of justice and only when he was sure they were guilty.

After Yitzhak left our troop went to Nyeber. From there I was able to see my family and my new girlfriend Freda. From the base in the wet lands of Nyeber we would go for missions on the train tracks of Molodechno- Polocheck. The train movements on that line were constant. The Germans would transfer soldiers, weapons, ammunition and gasoline to the front lines. We tried to disturb the movement as much as we could. The head of the our troop was the Russian Orlov who came to commend us after he fought in the front. Our economical situation was good. We got supplies from the nearby farmers and since we were in an area that was more secluded and away from other partisans it was easy to get supply.

My girlfriend Freda came from Brisk. She looked like a shiksa. In 1940 at the time of the Soviets she arrived in Kribitz where she worked in accounting. When the Germans came to Kribitz she made an arrangement with a gentile that she would stay with him in exchange for some of her belongings. She transferred all of her belongings to him but she stayed a little longer in the Ghetto. After she escaped she went to the gentile, he let her stayed there for two days and then he kicked her out, refusing to give back her belongings. When I found out about it I arranged to go with four other partisans to that gentile. At first he denied knowing anything about any Jew. After we hit him he returned her belongings and that helped Freda a lot in her hiding place in the woods that was right next to my family.

Between the month of May and Sep. 1943 I took part in 11 missions of blowing up bridges and trains. One of the missions took place near the station in Parpinova next to Dackshitzi. This happened at the end of June. We were six people. We walked 50 meters in front of the tracks. At that point all the trees and bushes from the side of the tracks were cut so that the special guards who were called TODT, whose job was to watch the tracks, could see both sides of the tracks. At that time the trains would hardly go at night to prevent terrorism. So just before dawn we crawled on the tracks while it was still dark. From time to time the Germans would throw flares. Partisan Tzika, crawled up on the tracks and were joined by Sepliv who crawled 75 meters from Tzika. Another partisan went from the other side. We would put the explosives in two places for two reasons; one was because if something would go wrong and the first explosives didn't work, hopefully the second would go off. Secondly if the first explosive went off then the second explosive would take out anyone running to the train. While the three partisans were on the tracks we were below ready to shoot if they were noticed. We waited for the train for many hours only at nine forty in the morning the cargo train came and the explosion was huge. The Germans started shooting and we retreated into the woods after we were ten km away we rested. We returned to our base very happy.

At one point we decided to move our base closer to the train tracks. Now it was only a one day walk to get there. The third of Aug. 1943 was a historically famous day in the partisans fight in the region. On that day all the Otriads, Spetz gropa and the brigades had missions all over the train tracks of Belarus. At this time the partisan airports were fully working so we got a lot of ammunition and explosives and also more of us were trained by the Red army how to use the explosives. The part we were responsible was between Botzlov and Parpinova. So from the 3 of Aug until the 16 there was a fierce battle of explosives on the train tracks. The sounds of our explosives were constant and the Germans didn't know what to do. Those were some of the best days in my stay in the woods.

On the 2 of Aug. we returned to Nyaber for two weeks of rest. I sent a message through another partisan to my girlfriend that I was in Nyeber, “Could she come visit.” After a week she arrived all by herself. She walked in the woods for 40 km just to see me for one day. She had wonderful news to tell me. They are going to have an only Jewish Otriad with a Jewish commander. I immediately wanted to join them. But to my sorrow I got sick with Typhus. I lost consciousness so they sent me to a hospital 60 km from Nyeber.

When I woke up the first thing I saw was the beautiful face of a girl named Chaya Parus from Svangson. Chaya told me that I was in the Zimlanka of the health clinic of the Jewish Otriad, Mayest. And that she was the nurse there. This was some time in Sep. 1943. When I was able to leave the Zimlanka I saw an amazing sight. All around me there were armed Jews, men and women. Even their headquarters was Jewish. This was what I dreamed of and was not in a hurry to return to my troop. Here I heard stories about the resistance in the Vilna Ghetto and the departure of a group of Jews from the Ghetto to the woods. I met the leaders of the Otriad. Botnias, a Jew from Lithuania who use to be a paratrooper in the army, Yosef Glassman from Vilna, Boris Grodman and the unit officers Chayim Lazar, Shura Bogin and Bomka Boyraski. In the Otriad I met Jews from Svensal, Sviere, Midol, Quebelanic, Kostov and others and I also saw again some of my friends from Kurenitz. Most of the unit was from the PPO in Vilna. This was the social headquarters for all the Jewish partisans and all other Jews in the forest. Here they spoke Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian. You would meet every one and hear news from all around. The members of the Jewish Otriad would participate in terrorist actions and they destroyed the German headquarters in Midol, they fought the white Polish and also they damaged the German headquarters in Kobolinic.

The Otriad encountered many difficulties. They had many members that were not armed and a large amount of women. The other partisans didn't respect them. At on time they had 260 people and in spite of the fact that they disarmed many of the Polish and got a large amount of rifles from them, they were not given any of those rifles. On Sep 23 Markov and Kalimov the leaders of the partisans in the area came to the troop and announced that the Jews are not a nation, according to the definition set by Stalin. They do not have their own republic so they are disallowed to participate in the partisan movement as a separate national entity. They must join the other brigades that belong to the specific republics that they came from. The other reason for taking that unit apart they said, was that having independent Jewish troop creates anti-Semitism and weakens the effort to have a united Belarussian fight and thereby weakens the Russian fight against the Germans. The next day Solovitz the new commander of the troop Komsomolski, took all the Jewish fighters watches, boots, and personal weapons and that was the end of the Jewish Otriad, Mystetal.

This was a terrible shock to all the Jews in the forest. The next day was the beginning of the big blockade. 40,000 German soldiers surrounded Narootz forest aiming to kill the partisans. The blockade lasted one week. Very few of the partisans were killed but from the Jews there were many victims especially of the Jews who had just come from Ghetto Vilna and were not yet acclimated to living in the forest.

I returned to my troop, the Plotnikov group. When I told commander Orlov of the Jewish Otriad dismiss he was very upset for us, Jews. So two days later when I told him there is a new, small Jewish group that was going to be lead by Shura Katzenbogen he immediately let me leave and take my personal weapon. So I joined the troop.

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Zalman Uri Gurevitz as partisan

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Molodetzcno, 1957
Zalman Uri Gurevitz, Yaakov Alperovitz and Danilitzkin (Vlodia).
Next to a memorial for Andre Volenitz, head of the partisan
resistance troop they once belonged to.

The Troop of Shura Bogin and the Second Brigade named for Soborov

Shura's troop had a little over 20 people. Amongst them Lazar Shipiro, Hershka Hermitz, Morbechick, Shika Grietman, Shimon Zimmerman, The brothers Salim and Moshyo Shnitzer, Leib Gurevitch, two people with the last name Levine, Claw, and someone from Svier and others I can not recall their names. Shura Bogin was a blond man who looked like a goy with a rolling R in his speech. He was modest, honest, brave and a good Jew. Although he was not religious or even traditional he had a Jewish soul and he was determined that the Jews can fight just like anyone else. He had to prove this in an environment that was full of anti-Semitism. I was there only for a short time. Mostly we were guarding the partisan airports and gathering weapons from the farming community. After one of the missions where I was able to see how brave Shura was, I got a message to go to the Politnikov troop. On my return I visited my family and I also took Shura's mother-in-law to live with my family.

At that time the Spats gropa was part of the second brigade of Soborov. They were dislocated. They moved us to the area of Smorgon. Most of the new fighters who joined us came to us after surviving the bloody blockade in the Vostok. We fought two fronts, one the Germans and the second was the White Polish since in that area most of the population was Polish. At the beginning we did the routine partisan work guarding, destroying telephone and telegraph lines, killing collaborators, getting supplies and political propaganda against the local German authorities. Our specific group was involved in derailing trains and destroying bridges and roads. Our direct areas was from Molodechno to Vilna and between Somdmov to Godimay. We suffered a lot from the Polish partisans of the area so a decision was made to clear Smorgon and Vistoma from both Germans and the Polish Ak. Everyone was participating, even the cooks. We were joined by the brigade Sovietico Belarus that was headed by Volinitz. The brigade Brinoza that was headed by Smolanski and three Otriads from Markovs brigade. Our brigade attacked from the West, Prozna from the North, The Sovietico Belarus from the South East, and the three Otriad of Markovs directly from the main road Molodechno- Smorgon. It took place in the middle of March 1944. This was one of the largest battles of the partisans in West Belarus. It was like a true army battle. After a strong barrage of fire we attacked from the three sides of Smorgon. The Germans were in their bunkers and they knew of the coming attack so they replied with very strong fire. Already in the first German reply some partisans were killed. We all immediately shadowed the ground. There was a command to get up and press on. The German machine guns constantly shot. We got up and ran 50 meters and again laid down on the melting snow. I could hear wounded begging for help but no one could help. The situation was grieve and it was getting dark. We were almost frozen. Again we heard the command, “ Forward.” We ran with all our might. Grenades were thrown by us through the opening of Germans bunkers. Still there were some shots but much less. We ran ahead now the battle continued in the center of town from house to house. At that point, where we got to the center of town our specific brigade was transferred in sleds to the direction Vistoma, to fight the Polish Whites. We were still very tired from the first battle, but we had to continue.

The Poles were waiting for us. Right at dawn the battle began, but it was a children's play in comparison to the Smorgon battle. We had the upper hand both from the point of weapons and numbers. So all we wanted was to have the fewest number of victims from our side. We let the Pole shoot until their ammunition was dwindling. At nine in the morning they started retreating to the North West. We were too tired to follow them closely. We entered Vistoma. The town was burning. There were many bodies of Polish fighters and residents of the city. We called the residents to stop the fire. It was a big day of victory. Vodka was spilled like water everywhere. The town mayor, the police and the collaborators that didn't escape were executed. I think that this was a happy day for some of the women in the town.

At that night we left the area with our wounded and dead. We buried the dead near the Villia river in a very sentimental ceremony. I even heard a commissar eulogizing one of the Jewish victims from Krasna, he said that he was a Jewish hero.

Just prior to the bottle a lot of the young Christians from the villages got notices to come to Smorgon so they can take them to work in Germany . many of the young people came to our headquarters and asked if we could save them from that fate. We distributed a lot of propaganda that they must not join the hard labor force in Germany. Some of the youth joined the partisans and others hid in the forest. I myself gave a speech on that subject in one village, Kobli. I was happy to hear that many of the villagers did not succumb to the German propaganda and did not join. On March 6th there was an announcement that all the men that were born between 1908 and 1924 must join the national defense of Belarus. This troop was suppose to help the Germans with the war against the Soviet Union. The German situation in the front was very bad at that point so they needed any help they could get of the locals. We were doing counter propaganda in 38 villages to pursued the locals not to join that army. In one of the villages, Kotzitzi, we knew ahead that the Germans would come on March 8 to get the youth to join the Belarussian army. We put a blockade on the village and killed many Germans and policemen and we got 32 automatic rifle and 3 machine guns. Not one youth joined their army. At the end of March 200 Germans entered the village Kosmitzi. We decided to attack. We opened a surprise fire. At the beginning the Germans retreated after a short time they realized from the strength of the fire that there were just few of us. they started with counter attack. We retreated but continued firing. During the battle one of our guys was wounded. At the beginning we did not realize it. When we regrouped we realized that he was missing, We decided to return to the area and get him alive or dead. We returned and what we realized was that he was wounded and could not move and that he was constantly shooting at the Germans until he had one bullet and used it to kill himself. At the moment we came the Germans were going to put benzene on his body and burn him. We attacked them and took his body to burial. April May and the beginning of June we were only busy with derailing and destroying trains. We didn't work hard because the Germans were hardly using the trains and the night rides totally stopped. It was dangerous to attack during the day but the Germans did not actively look for us any more. They just defended the tracks. They were very weak so a few times we were successful in derailing their trains and taking the ammunition. At the end of May, Botziko the head of the special unit gave and order to kill the forester Silac who caused the death of Elik Alperovich in the forest of tzintzivi in June 1942.

We met at his house. He was sure that no one was left from the Kurenitz Jews who knew what he had done. I won't give you the gory details but we did what we had to do and this “lowest of low” got his punishment. Between the 19th and 20th of 1945 there was another war of the tracks. All together there were 3 wars of the tacks and this was the last one. In one night the partisans destroyed 40,000 segments of train tracks. Whatever the Germans would repair during the day we destroyed at night.

The Red Army was forging ahead with huge steps. The Nazis were retreating. They tried to use the roads and the trains. We were waiting to ambush them. All we could do was to help the approaching red army with whatever we could do.

Many volunteers joined the brigade and at the time of the liberation it included 500 fighters and among them 17 Jews. On July 4th our brigade met with the red army in Vistoma and we continued in there ranks until we reached Smorgon.

Immediately as I was released I got a job as a teacher and head master in a junior high school in Vistoma and shortly after I started at the University of Minsk and married my girl friend Freda.

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