[Translators note: This Hebrew chapter below, Scrolls From the Flame is a translation of the Yiddish Blettlach Funem Flam (Little Pages From the Flame), which appears on page 412 and includes an accompanying photo on page 431 of the author and his family. We thought it best to give below the translation by Harvey Spitzer of the original Yiddish text. The photos in the text below relate to pages 364 and 379.]
by Yisrael Slonimsky
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
On September 1, 1939, the conflagration broke out in which everything that had authentic meaning for us went up in flames: home, happiness and future.
With terror in our hearts, we awaited the arrival of the Germans, who had invaded and taken over Poland. At night, we slept in our clothes in case we had to run away in search of a hiding place. Seventeen days went by in this way when, suddenly, the news reached us that the Red Army was approaching. We were very happy, as we were finally rid of the fright of falling into German claws.
A few weeks went by and our joy was marred. The Russians took away all our possessions and levied heavy taxes on the store owners which they couldn't possibly pay. The richest Jews were sent to Siberia or Archangel, and those who were not sent away lived in fear that the Russians would come at night, pull them out of bed and send them off to perform forced labor in the far north.
My lime burner was nationalized, and such heavy taxes were imposed on my store that I had nothing left. I went away to work on the rafts, hoping only that they would let me stay in one place. But we still didn't grasp the fact that evil and misfortunes have no limit, nor did we ever imagine that it could be thousands of times worse if the German destroyer gained control over us.
In the early hours of the morning of Sunday, June 22, 1941, the gentile residents of Delatitch and peasants from surrounding villages began running back to their homes from the market in Lubtch. Jumping with joy, they related that, while in Lubtch, they heard on the radio that that the Germans had attacked Russia and that German airplanes had already bombarded Lida, Novogrudek and Baranovitch. In the evening, it was reported that German troops were already shooting up the roads leading to Russia and that the former Polish-Russian border was closed to everyone except government personnel who had come to work in our district. Where can people run to? . We already found out from the press and from refugees that the Germans were locking the Jews up in ghettos, wiping out entire Jewish communities, but what could we do except wait for our dark fate.
On Saturday, June 28, hundreds of peasants from the whole region started out in wagons for Lubtch. They were coming, with the permission of the Germans, to plunder the property of the Jews in Lubtch. After a half day of looting, they went back with their wagons completely loaded up with our possessions: furniture, sewing machines, bedding, clothing, pots and pans, glassware, cows and even chickens, anything and everything that their wild animal appetites lusted for. The gentiles in Lubtch opposed them, not, God forbid, to protect the Jews, but because they claimed the plunder belonged to them. They hit one another with iron tools. The gentiles from the surrounding area went back home with deep gashes in their heads, their animal blood pouring down over their impure faces, but they were happy, knowing that the wagons loaded with our possessions would compensate for everything.
Gentiles from Delatitch whom we knew very well, our so-called good neighbors, came to the Jews and told them that the same thing would befall us the next day. They advised us to pack up our better things and give it to them for safekeeping. In any case, you won't be needing these things any more today, and tomorrow they're going to take everything away from you. Give it to me, and when you need it, I'll give it back to you. Every word of theirs was like a spear piercing our hearts.
The peasants from the surrounding areas couldn't wait until Sunday and attacked us that very Saturday night. They smashed all the windowpanes, broke down the doors, forced everyone to the Neiman River and robbed anything of value, and whatever was worthless to them, they simply broke and destroyed. They hit the elderly Rabbi Beinish Liss over the head with a spade and my father, Feive the Baker, received a blow on his shoulders with an axe.
We hid among the shrubs at the river edge for two days. On the third day, when our hunger became oppressive, we went back to our homes. They somewhat calmed their bloody instincts for two days. They greeted us with a shout: Now, Jews, there's not a thing we're lacking! A few elderly Christian residents secretly brought us bread, flour and a pitcher of milk. But where could we get a pan or a spoon, since everything had either been stolen or broken? They strewed garbage all over the study hall (synagogue), broke the windows, took down the doors, tore the Torah scrolls and hung them up on the trees.
The Germans came a few days later. They appointed the police and published an order that Jews must wear a yellow Star of David over their heart and shoulders, that Jews must not leave the town without a permit and whoever did not obey this order would be shot on the spot. Rabbi Ya'akov Baksht, May God avenge his blood!, was the first to go outside with the yellow badge. You could not conceive how happy and excited the gentiles were to see the Jews humiliated.
The gentiles began forcing us out to work on property belonging to Delatitch. There, we dug up potatoes and beets and also received blows from our new masters. They also became masters of our houses. We accepted everything with love because our heart told us that things were yet to get worse.
Even before the Jews were locked up in the ghetto in Lubtch, 150 young Jews were selected and sent to a work camp near Dvoretz. My brother-in-law, Avraham Kivovitch as well as Shepsel, Itche Kushner's son, and Shemaya, Sarah-Elke's grandson, were part of that group.
I worked on the property belonging to the village of Vereskova. Velvel Yankelevitch and Sara-Elke's grandson, Yerachmiel, worked together with me as did my father-in-law and both my brothers-in-law, Nota and Ya'akov. We also used to sleep there. When the Jews from Delatitch were driven into the ghetto in Lubtch, I would work all week long in Vereskova. Friday evenings, we were allowed to go to our families in the Lubtch ghetto. Since my job was tending to the cows, I would go into the cow shed Thursday night, milk the cows and prepare a couple of bottles of milk. That's how I was able to smuggle a little milk into the ghetto. My wife would divide the milk among our small children. Of course, one received a death penalty for such a crime.
Even before we were locked up in the ghetto, Gestapo agents would come to Lubtch in trucks. They would seize young men, as though for work, and then take them behind the town and shoot them. When we found out about that, we became more cautious. As soon as there was daylight, the young men would run off and hide in the fields all day long. But no one thought about escaping into the forests and saving himself from the Germans. We still believed that we would outlive the enemy, and besides, we didn't want to be separated from our families.
The situation changed for the worse when we were driven into the Lubtch ghetto. It already became difficult to run away. The news that reached us about the slaughters of the Jews in surrounding ghettos broke our spirits completely. In Novogrudek, on the first day of the Hebrew month of Av, 5701 (1941), the Germans and their helpers gathered together 52 Jews, stood them in a row in the middle of the street and shot every tenth person. The counting was repeated regularly until they finished off the last Jew. While this was taking place, a band played happy marches. Afterwards, Jewish women were sent to wash the blood off the pavement stones.
We began to observe fasts - the old Jewish means against evil decrees. We would fast twice a week and even little children fasted. But no miracle occurred and God's gates of mercy remained closed to our prayers and fasting.
Jews from Delatitch, Neishtat (Negnyevitch) and the Jewish residents of the surrounding villages were also locked up in the Lubtch ghetto. Chaim Bruk from Lubtch and Berl Yankelevitch from Delatitch were appointed leaders of the ghetto. Decrees were issued incessantly: First, we had to hand over all our money, jewelry, other valuables and the little furniture that remained after the plunder by the gentiles. Harsh monetary penalties were imposed on us for any light matter. We had to hand over at once whatever they desired. The craftsmen: tailors, shoemakers, etc., had to work for the Germans and for the local police, but the craftsmen themselves were almost naked and barefoot. If a person managed to bury something in the ground, he risked his life sneaking out the ghetto to trade the treasure with a gentile for a piece of bread to keep his children alive.
We lived in Tevel the Shoemaker's house. There were thirty people in one room. When we slept, one person's head was against another's. People were actually eaten away by lice and worms, but until the very end, no one broke down or lost confidence in the belief that salvation would come. Yenta, the daughter of the rabbi of Lubtch, also lived in the ghetto with her husband, Dr. Rabinovitch from Baranovitch. The rabbi had died a short time before, and his wife was in the ghetto in Novogrudek. On a certain day, the rabbi's wife informed Yenta that the murderers had set out in the direction of Lubtch and that we should be on guard. When we heard the tiding, we all recited confession and awaited death. Till this very day, I can't comprehend why we didn't try to escape from the ghetto that day, as if some secret force was preventing us from running away, although there were dense forests all around us just an arm's length away and good prospects for saving our lives. A few days went by in expectation of death, but the murderers did not show up.
Incidentally, I will mention here that a short time later, during the slaughter, when they brought Yenta and her husband to the pit, Dr. Rabinovitch shouted out to the Germans that the day of revenge would certainly come for them and their mad leader and that they would pay dearly for their crimes. He embraced Yenta, kissed her and, thus doing, both fell into the pit.
A few days after Passover, 1942, two Gestapo agents came into the ghetto. They took out Naftali's son, Avraham Alperstein, Yitchak Rosenblum and Chaim Bruk. They brought them out of the house and shot them on the spot. Chaim Bruk still managed to run to Sarah-Esther's yard, but they chased after him and shot him. We remained like sheep without a shepherd, for Chaim Bruk, with his authority, wisdom and knowledge, always comforted us and gave us courage and confidence.
An order came from Novogrudek to send one hundred tradesmen there from Lubtch. My brother-in-law, Nota, Baruch-Mordechai Krulevetzky and I were taken as part of that transport. Weeping terribly, we said good-bye to our families. We felt that we would not see each other again. My wife, however, would not let the Jewish Council rest until they prevailed upon the authorities to allow her and the children to move to the ghetto in Novogrudek.
600 Jews from Lubtch capable of working were transferred to Vorobievitch to shtchereben in shayer (sense unclear). There were also Jews from Delatitch among them and I remember some of them: Rabbi Ya'akov Baksht and his daughter, Necha, Rabbi Beinush with his family, Berl with Peya, Velvel Yankelevitch, Chaya -Zelda, my father-in-law, Moshe-Aharon with his son, Ya'akov, and his wife with two children. They were assured that they would work paving roads and that they would all remain alive. Not one of them remained alive: some were burned alive and others were shot at the large pit, close to the Lubtch- Novogrudek road. Gershon Kapushtchevsky tried to escape, but they shot at him and he fell wounded into a stream and drowned.
There were also some Jews from Delatitch in the Novogrudek ghetto: my father, Rabbi Feive, my brother-in-law, Avraham'l with his son, Binyamin, Yosef the Ritual Slaughterer with his family, Golda Krulevetzky with the children, Moshe Sontzes with his younger daughter.
Mainly old women and little children remained in the Lubtch ghetto. My mother, Feigel, and my sister, Itke-Tulia, with her three children were also among them. They were all murdered in Podlipka, on the 24th of the Jewish month of Av, together with the last 275 Jews from Lubtch. On that day, they also liquidated the Jews in Vorobievitch and two thousand Jews in Novogrudek.
After arriving in the Novogrudek ghetto, we were placed in an old house with a broken, rotted roof. We would get wet with the slightest rain. Every day, together with my wife and son, we went a distance of seven kilometers to work paving roads, carefully guarded by the local police. All day long we would drag heavy stones and wheelbarrows with sand and gravel. For being late to work, one was made to lie on the ground and was then whipped to death. At five o'clock in the afternoon, the police would take us back to the ghetto. On the way back, they would make sport of us, whip us or even shoot us just for entertainment, leaving behind the dead and seriously injured. Those who worked received 120 grams of bread a day. Those who didn't work got nothing. My daughter Rochele was still too small and didn't work.
One day, they sent off a group of Jews to work in Minsk. My brother-in-law, Nota, was included in that group and was murdered there.
The day came when the Jews in Novogrudek were slaughtered:
That day, as always, we were away at work and had left Rochele in the ghetto. Suddenly, people began saying that an aktion was going to take place that day. We were then working in the town itself. I dropped my work, turned around and went into the ghetto. I took Rochele and tried to get her out of the ghetto. A Jewish ghetto-policeman stopped us at the gate and ordered me to leave Rochele in the ghetto. I pleaded with him at length and when he finally pretended not to notice, I went out with Rochele and brought her to the workplace.
There was a great commotion when the foreman began registering people with a trade. I urged him forcefully and he registered me as a tradesman. Then they drove us up to a yard and again began registering us. But this was already for a final count. When the pushing and shoving got out of hand, a policeman, a Tarter from Novogrudek, began hitting us with a leather club. Then they led us away to the barracks where armed Germans called out the names of 200 men from a list. After that, they began shouting to the remaining Jews: Damn Jews, back to work.
We already understood what awaited us and began running to hide in the fields of grain. I took my wife and children, my brother-in-law, Avraham'l, with his son and we went back to our house in the ghetto where we had discovered a good, camouflaged hiding place a few weeks before.
As soon as we heard the first shooting in the ghetto, we went into a closet, removed the small cover and from there went into the hiding place, putting back the small cover to close the closet. My father was also with us, but the tightness made him choke and he began coughing very loudly. We asked him to go out and hide in the crawlspace because we would all surely be killed on account of him. My father understood the situation very well and went out of the shelter, climbed up into the crawlspace and put down the ladder. He lay there for three days and wasn't found. On the fourth day, the 200 selected craftsmen were brought into the ghetto so they could take down the ghetto fence and put up a new one. When my father noticed people going about freely in the ghetto, he came down from the crawlspace. He was soon caught and led away.
From our hiding place, we could look outside and see how the Jews were driven from their houses and ordered to lie face up on the ground. The policemen shouted: Davai tchasi, Davai zolota! (Give watches! Give gold!). When it grew dark, trucks came and everyone was pushed onto the trucks. Whoever didn't climb aboard fast enough was shot on the spot. The Jewish ghetto police carried the sick people out, but when they finished, the sick people were locked up in the same house where we had our hiding place. Afterwards, the door opened and someone shouted the order: Out! They packed them into a truck and took them away. They also discovered various hiding places and dragged out the people hiding there. Over 2,000 Jews were caught and murdered in the common grave on the road to Shelyov, near the dogcatchers' house.
Lying in our hiding place, we heard the front door open. Two Jews who were part of the group of tradesmen entered. They were looking around the rooms for something. We heard one of them ask the other: Well, did you find anything to chew on? Convinced that they were Jews, we decided to ask them if it was possible to leave our hiding place. Hearing our voices, one of them approached the closet and said in a loud voice: Stay there! Don't go out! I'll talk to the Polish commander, who is a friend of mine. When he comes here and calls out that Yevnovitch sent him, only then should you leave your hiding place.
A few days went by, but no one came. On the fifth day, Rochele had an attack of hysteria. She started to laugh wildly and no one could calm her. The nervous people were about to put various things over her face and suffocate her, when my wife suddenly got the idea to bite Rochele somewhere on her body until she was bleeding. She did this and our young daughter immediately calmed down.
It was only on the seventh day that the commander came in and shouted in Polish: Go out! Yevnovitch sent me!
We came out of the shelter drunk from weakness. The commander demanded one thousand rubles to take us into the small ghetto. We gave him the amount he asked for, and he brought us into the ghetto. We hid there several days and then went out, having assumed the names of those who had escaped from the ghetto.
The bitter news became known to us that we no longer had any family remaining either in Lubtch or Vorobievitch. A few days later, they shot my father, who had been kept under arrest the whole time as well as Yosef Kagan with his wife, Simke, and their two little children. As they were led past the ghetto, they shouted out to us: Jews, avenge our blood!
We decided to escape from the ghetto. I spoke to the Jews in our room about this: Avraham Lin, Itche Florans from Baranovtich and Rabinovitch. We traded a suit of clothes for fifteen kilos of flour, which we smuggled into the ghetto and baked bread from it- provisions for the way. Avraham Lin stole a gun with sixteen bullets at the place where he worked and brought it into the ghetto.
On the set day, my son didn't go out to work because he used to return very late. The German who used to come to take him to work came looking for him. My wife told him that he had gone to work very early and that was all she knew. The German warned us that it would be very bad and bitter for us if our son failed to go to work the next day as well. The same day, two Germans drove into the ghetto in wagons and ordered us to fill them with bricks. When we finished the job, one of the Germans for whom I worked looked around to see if anyone was listening and said to me: Jew, You'd better find a way out of here, otherwise you're going to die. When he received no answer from me, he repeated the same sentence. Then I plucked up the courage to talk and replied that I was afraid to talk to him because Jews are forbidden to speak to a German. For Heaven's sake, I won't do anything to you!, the German exclaimed and began to lecture about the new German culture which murders innocent people, adding that he doesn't feel good about the war and that if Hitler has a bone to pick with Stalin, let them fight it out together, like two mad dogs.
He also said that the surrounding area was full of partisans who had already killed many Germans and that he was sure that we could reach the partisans and save ourselves from death.
That night we escaped from the ghetto. We gave every one in the group a small loaf of bread - provisions for the way, and I also took along an axe with nails and the gun.
The night cloaked us in darkness as we scraped ourselves on the ground, crawling under the barbed wire, with hearts filled with fear and prayer to God that He would lead us on the right way. When all of us were over the other side of the ghetto wire, we began running, one behind the other.
Dogs started barking and their owners also noticed us. It didn't take long for them to notify the Germans that Jews were escaping from the ghetto. A searchlight cut through the night, and a hail of bullets accompanied us. Suddenly, we heard cries and noticed that Liss and his wife had fallen dead, like cut-off ears of grain. We all gathered together among the bushes and lay there for a few hours until it grew quiet and, somewhere in the distance, we only heard dogs barking and eventually whining. It was only then that we decided to go on our way, following the road to Selyov. The night was ours because the Germans were afraid to travel on the roads at night on account of the partisans.
The next day, we sat stuck in the woods not far from Selyov. That night we reached Delatitch and went to the river. The water at the shore of the Neiman was already frozen, but it was possible to cross over with a rowboat because the middle of the river was still ice-free.
I found a boat not too far away, looked for a pole instead of an oar and began to cross over the river with my wife and children. When we got close to the opposite shore, my little daughter fell into the water. My wife barely managed to grab her little hand and pull her out of the ice cold water. I went back to the other side of the river and brought over all the people from our group. Soon after, we went into the forest and started on our way to Berezin.
As we got closer to Berezin, we left everyone in the forest, and only Avraham'l and I went to the homes of peasants in Berezin with whom we were acquainted, very decent Christians, from whom we used to buy fish in the good times. Avraham'l had hidden his things with one of them.
In the evening, we knocked on the door and went into the house. There, we found the peasants' sixteen year old son. The boy was very frightened, seeing the unexpected guests. He ran over to the lamp and extinguished the wick. He told us that the Germans had come the day before and exchanged fire with the partisans. Suddenly, he shouted to us: A policeman is going! What he meant wasn't very clear to us, but we ran out of the house and went to try our luck at the home of the Christian with whom Avraham'l had hidden his things.
Here, too, a young fellow also opened the door for us. He asked us to sit down and went into the next room to wake up his father. As soon as the elderly peasant came in, he embraced and kissed both of us and wept. He ordered his son to bring us food and asked about our families.
We told him that my wife and children, Avraham'l's son, Niome, and several more Jews were sitting in the forest, waiting for us to return. He asked that none of them should come to his house, only the both of us. He would provide us with food and would do everything he had the strength to do for us. And, in fact, he brought us bread, a small container of butter, cheese, two spades and a saw. Avraham'l asked his advice about how to go about building an earthen shelter, but he refused to answer this question because, should we be found, we would undoubtedly suspect that he was the one who turned us in and sold his conscience to the devil. As he spoke, we could sense his honest intentions, clean conscience and pure heart. And our hearts trembled as we realized that the whole world had not yet been corrupted and that even in Sodom there were still some honest and good people!
We went to Kazik, who was in the forests near Potashnya. He, too, inquired who had remained alive and gave us potatoes, bread and two spades. We offered him money so that he would provide us with food. He replied that he had more money than we did, but if we needed any kind of merchandise, we could get everything.
We settled in Viltche Bloto (Wolf Mud), a place in the forest where the wolves have their dens. We dug a pit, blocked the walls with sawed off young trees, put a ladder inside so we could go down and camouflaged the top with little trees. The snow covered everything, and it was hard to tell from outside that this was a hiding place. However, it is very hard to hide from the eyes of peasants who know every hidden corner in the forest and recognize, like a wild animal, the scent of a stranger.
When we went back to Kazik a few months later, he told us that the peasants in the surrounding villages knew where we were hiding. He advised us to leave the place because the peasants would turn us over to the Germans.
We did not leave the place, but we were already afraid to go and ask peasants for food. Three weeks went by and we were simply famished. My brother-in-law suggested that we go out and look for koptzes potatoes (holes covered all winter for storing potatoes). We actually found such a kopetz hole in one of the hamlets, and that kept us alive.
Early one morning, as we were sitting around the fire cooking our food, we heard a shout: Ruki verch! (Hands up!) We naturally obeyed the order and raised our hands. These were Christian partisans in a unit bearing Stalin's name. They searched us, took our money, boots, sheets which we had gotten and they also wanted to take our gun, but one of them would not allow this, explaining that we wouldn't be able to get food without a gun and that we would die of hunger. We asked them to take us with them, but our asking was in vain because: You're robbers, and there's no place among partisans for such people. Two weeks later, they returned and took the only gun we had.
A few days later, we were forced to leave our earthen shelter and move to another place. We dug ourselves into a hill and built a stronger and better camouflaged earthen shelter. We had to hide from the Germans as well as from some of the partisans. We were in contact with a certain peasant, Misha, whom we would often help with his household work. A few days after we had left our first shelter, the partisans came back looking for us. When they found no one there, they shot bullets in their own hats and informed their commander that we shot at them and then ran away. The commander ordered them to catch us and bring us to him. We found out all about this from Misha, our contact person. In short, they captured my brother-in-law and forced him to lead them to our hiding place. They then took two of our men and brought them to their commander. On the way, they savagely beat them up, then washed off the blood and brought them to Tchapen, the village where the unit's command post was located. As they were waiting outside in this state, a Jewish partisan happened to pass by and said: Don't be afraid, fellows. They won't do anything to you., and having said this, left. And that's what actually happened. The commander understood the truth and released them. Since it was already too late to go back, he ordered that they be given food and a place to sleep. My brother-in-law again brought up the question of our being accepted into the unit, but they turned down his request because we didn't have any guns, and they themselves didn't have enough guns for their men. The commander sent a letter with our request to the district staff quarters located not far from Baksht, but we received the same reply from there.
Itche Florans decided to go back to the ghetto in Novogrudek and get his brother out. We took him as far as the Neiman. He crossed the ice covered river and got safely into the ghetto, but it was already impossible to get out of the ghetto. They started to dig a tunnel, but before they finished digging, a slaughter took place and they hid in a bunker. That night, Itche Florans was standing by the door of the bunker, listening to the sounds outside. Suddenly, he heard the Germans approaching the bunker and surrounding it. He shouted: Jews, save your lives! He jumped outside, quickly climbed over the ghetto fence and was engulfed by the blackness of the night. He reached Delatitch that same night. He stayed there a full week until he managed to return to our earthen shelter.
Spring was approaching. We knew that when the ice melted, the Neiman would overflow all around and we would be cut off from all human habitation and not receive any food. That meant that we had to provide food for ourselves well in advance if we didn't want to die of hunger.
Lin, a carpenter, carved guns and pistols from wood, and they really looked authentic. Armed with such weapons, we went to one of the hamlets. We entered a house holding our pistols and ordered the peasant to harness a horse because we had to go somewhere. The peasant started crying, explaining that he had only one horse and that if we took away his horse, he would be unable to maintain his household. I calmed him down, promising that we wouldn't hurt him, and that if he was worried about his horse, he should take us with him in his sleigh. The peasant actually did so.
It was a bright winter night. The ground was still covered with white, clean snow as soft as butter, but we already felt a mild spring breeze coming up and the trees awakening from their frozen sleep. The sleigh carrying the six Jews with wooden guns on their shoulders moved along quickly and pleasantly, as though it were a peaceful jaunt in the good old days.
The Voynov forest was silent when we went into the homes of the peasants and ordered them to give us food. We loaded up the sled with a few bags of flour, bread, groats, meat, sausage and honey. At midnight, we went back with our trophies, accompanied by the barking of dogs.
On the way back, we encountered a large group of partisans. We were afraid that we would be questioned as to where and how we got food and that we would undoubtedly be shot on account of that. But we had no other choice and had to take a chance. When we got closer, a guard saw us and shouted out: Give the password! I kept my wits about me and answered: The same, the same as you! He gave an order Move your horse on! The same thing happened a second time. We got through safely in this way and returned to our earthen shelter. Then we released the peasant with his horse and he went happily back home.
Two weeks later, we again took a horse from one of the peasants and brought back a wagon full of potatoes. We obtained food in this way and got safely through the few weeks, during which everything around was submerged in water and we were sitting in our shelter, as though we were on an island, cut off from human settlement.
Spring arrived. The sun became agreeably warmer and the water dried up. Everything was covered with green vegetation and an abundance of flowers. Birds were chirping and flying from tree to tree, carrying pieces of wood, grass and soil in their beaks with which to build their nests. Everything awakened to a new life. We also felt freer and happier.
On such a day, we were sitting outside, cooking a pot of potatoes over a small fire. Suddenly, we heard the echo of a strong movement, not far from us, and an echo of voices also reached us. We were terribly afraid. Who could that be? As we were sitting like that, eating the hot potatoes, we saw two armed men approaching. We soon recognized them as partisans. We greeted them with a Welcome comrades! and invited them to sit and eat with us.
Hearing that we were Jews hiding from the Germans, they told us that they belonged to the partisan unit named after Tchkalov and that there were many Jews in that unit who would certainly like to see us. Before long, the Jewish partisans, men and women, came to us. We kissed and wept from joy, seeing living Jews and besides, Jews who were taking revenge and paying back the enemy with fire and death. They asked us to go with them and show them in which villages there were no Germans.
We set out late at night and got as far as Delatitch-Zahorye. Guards were placed on the roads leading to Lubtch and Delatitch and we began to clean out the peasants, taking their cows, pigs, flour, grain as well as stolen Jewish property: suits, material, clothes, etc. We harnessed 25 horses and got to Mikolayeve before daybreak. We didn't take anything from the peasants who lived near the forest. On the contrary, we shared the things we brought with them.
The commander of the Tchkalov unit gave us a document stating that we belonged to his unit. He sent me and my brother-in-law on mission to spy out the area and report where the Germans were deployed and which of the local peasants were in the police force. We carried out our task superbly. Next, we went to Delatitch with a group of partisans. There, we caught the gentile who was the first to rob the Jews as well as the village elder, Alexei Shunke. We honored them both with a bullet to their heads, and we took everything they had in their houses, mainly the things they had robbed from the Jews.
The front had moved closer to our area. The Germans were running back in wild panic just as the Russians had run back three years earlier. The partisans cut off the roads taken by the retreating Germans and sowed death and destruction among them. At the beginning of January 1944, we heard distant, dull echoes of artillery fire. A few days later, we were already greeting the attacking divisions of the Red Army, which liberated our area.
We were once again free people, but where could we go? We were terrified to go back to our town - a few Jews among so many gentile wolves.
We went to Ivya, where I was drafted into the Red Army and sent to Lida, where Engineer Buslovitch, a former partisan from our unit, discharged me from the army, pretending I was needed for work in his division. My wife and I soon returned to Delatitch and moved back into our house. I worked in Lubtch, in the Raiprom-kombinat, as a deliverer of raw material and tools. In this position, I had the opportunity to travel about in Lida, Baranovitch, Minsk and other cities. The destruction was great everywhere. The Jewish communities were obliterated, and not a trace remained of the once flourishing and spiritually rich Jewish life.
It was hard for us to remain on that cursed ground. As soon as we had the opportunity to leave for Poland, we left our town and went to Lodz.
In Poland, however, the hatred towards the few surviving Jews was even greater and more intense than in our region. Pogroms were perpetrated against Jews in Cracow (1945), Kielce (1946) and other cities. They stopped trains, took the Jews off and shot them on the spot. The Polish population rejoiced and eagerly assisted the bandits.
We set out on the difficult path of clandestine immigration to Palestine. The route we followed took us through Czechoslovakia, Austria, Italy and finally to Eretz Yisrael. But this is already a separate chapter in our life, the story of which will be told in the history of the Jewish People and its fight for its own country.
On May 19, 1946, a year after the victory over the Germans, the greatest enemy of the Jewish people, our feet stepped upon the ground of our eternal homeland - The Land of Israel.
by Shifra Solomiansky [Leibovitch]
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
Sunday, June 22, 1941:
It's a lovely, sunny day. Hundreds of peasants are coming to the market place to sell their products and buy vodka, which is nearly the only item one can always purchase in government stores.
Suddenly, everyone around begins to tremble. The radio loudspeakers announce the terrible news that Nazi Germany has attacked the Soviet Union. Molotov speaks to the nation: He assures us that the enemy will be vanquished because our cause is just!. A thought crosses our minds as to whether we can rely on his speech. A few days before, the government actually denied the British report that Germany was concentrating its army on the borders of the USSR. In fact, the government deluded the population with its propaganda, and even the army was unprepared. Apparently, the Soviets had great trust in its Nazi partner; Ribbentrop's signature calmed the people and gave them a sense of security. Who can now have any trust in Molotov's words?
It didn't take long and our thoughts acquired a real meaning. Already on the second day, the Soviet authorities were running away from our town. German airplanes were bombing the whole region. A panic broke out and no one knew what to do. A small number of Jews ran deeper into White Russia, but the old Soviet-Polish border was closed and a laissez-passer document was required. By the time the border was free and unguarded, it was already too late. The entire region was already occupied by the German.
On Wednesday, June 25th, German airplanes bombed the town and blew up both bridges. Several Christian residents were killed by the shrapnel. Fish Street, Kapushtchever Street and a part of Castle Street were set ablaze by the bombing. No one bemoaned their burned possessions. People prayed to God that it shouldn't be any worse.
A few days later, two Germans came on motorcycles and assembled the Christian population. They declared that Jewish property was ownerless and that they could take whatever the Jews possessed. It didn't take much to incite the Christians against the Jews. For years they had been waiting for such an opportunity. The rampage began on Friday morning. The first to be attacked were the merchants and their shops: Moshe Shlimovitch, Chashe-Feigel Mendelevitch, Nissel Zalmanski and others. Next, they went from house to house, going on a rampage all night long right through the Sabbath day. Nothing was left in the houses. They spilled out the Sabbath stew and stole the pots. They even tore out the dampers from the chimneys. And whatever they couldn't take with them, they just destroyed. We couldn't even imagine trying to resist them as they were armed with axes, whips and sticks. For the slightest remark, they would beat you with murderous blows. It was simply a miracle that there were no human casualties on that Sabbath
We were left naked, without anything to wear, without the necessities of life. People sewed things from old bags, just so they would have something to cover their body with. The Jews who foresaw the plunder hid some of their possessions in the homes of gentiles with whom they were acquainted, but they only got trifles back and the gentiles threatened to kill the Jews as long as they could keep their belongings.
A short time later, all the Jews were called together onto the marketplace. They were arranged by family and ordered to wear the yellow Star of David. For the time being, that was all that happened.
One Friday, some Germans arrived in a car and, together with the Lubtch police under the command of the Jew's enemy, Sioma Komornik, went into Jewish homes and took out 50 young men, of whom I remember just a few: Yaakov Soltz, Avraham Soltz, Yehuda Berezinski, David Movshovitch, Yoel Baksht, Kalman Rosenblum, Baruch Gorodiski, Bere-Hirshel Gishin, David the Shoemaker and others. They announced that these young men were needed for work, but a short time later it become known that they were all shot to death in Novogrudek, behind the barracks. Besides these 50 men, four more Jews were shot in the town on that same day. These were Shaye Dzjientchelski, Yaakov Pikelni, Pesach Shklut and Yisrael-Itche Meselevitch.
The police station was located in Risia Yedidovitch's house. The policemen- young demons from Lubtch -would sit there and gleefully devise ways to torture the Jews who passed by. Once they seized an old woman, Leah Pines, and brought her into the station. They forced her to get water and clean the rooms. When her work was done, they beat her up and threw her out. Another time, they brought in Nota, Chaim-Shlomo the Tailor's son, and gave him twenty-five lashes with a whip. Afterwards he lay sick in bed for two months with pus -filled wounds all over his body. They would also grab Jews and send them to work in the forest and would also force old men to run while singing, Hatikva. How happy we were when we saw them coming back!
I don't exactly recall when the Jewish Council was appointed, but I clearly remember its make-up:
President - Yankel-Chaim Leibovitch
Secretary - Chaim Bruk
Members: Yisrael Soloducha, David Villner, Nachum Sandler, Shalom Ziman, Gershon Kapushchevsky and Beryl Yankelevitch from Delatitch.
The town was divided into sections and every section received two Jewish policemen (servants for maintaining order). Chaim Bruk took advantage of the better relations he had with the police to help the Jews of Lubtch. By the way, he was assured (it was, of course, one of the many lies they told to deceive us) that if no one tried to escape into the forest, the Jews in Lubtch would be better off than in all other places. From news reaching us, we knew that massacres had taken place in the surrounding towns and villages, and for the time being it was still quiet in Lubtch. We actually thought that their promises were worth something, and so no one did, in fact, run away, although it was very easy and simple to reach the forest.
A week before Chanukah, the news reached us that a great massacre had taken place in Novogrudek. Two Jews from Lubtch were also among the victims: Kushe Soltz and Ara Berezinski. Right on the eve of Chanukah, an order was received in Lubtch to send a group of young men to the work camp in Dvoretz. The police eagerly carried out this order. Men were torn away from their wives, children from their parents, among them many minors. Hungry and torn away from loved ones, they were driven on foot to Dvoretz, accompanied by the sorrowful weeping of the families left behind and the shouting and beatings of the two-footed dogs. Arriving in Novogrudek, there was further wailing when they found themselves together with the orphaned remnant of the local Jews.
The Lubtch Jewish Council was given a horse and wagon and had to provide food for the Jews from Lubtch who were sent to the work camp in Dvoretz. My father, Shalom Leibovitch, was appointed the wagon driver. Every one of his trips to Dvoretz was laden with great danger and we were very happy when he returned home safely.
One morning there was a panic: the Germans encircled the town and were going from house to house. Religious Jews wore their prayer shawls under their clothing, recited confession and waited to be taken to be killed. It's hard to understand what the Germans were looking for. They didn't do any harm to anyone and the whole episode ended only in terrorizing the Jews.
On Purim [March] 1942, an order was received to set up a ghetto and to lock up all the Jews there within a week's time.
Jews from surrounding villages were also driven into the Lubtch ghetto. Several families were placed in the bigger houses, and it was very tight, noisy and dirty. In contrast, it was much better in the smaller houses - fewer people and quieter.
Every morning the Jews would go to the ghetto gate from where they would be taken to their work places. From time to time, they would grab Jews and force them to kiss Stalin's portrait. If a Jew refused to obey their command, he would be beaten mercilessly, and if a Jew did obey their order, the police would shout that he was a communist, that he loved Stalin and they would beat him with murderous blows. Among their victims were Faivel Yedidovitch, Baruch-Mordechai Yankelevitch and other.
After the ghetto was set up, the place commander, a sadistically cruel German, took up residence in Lubtch. He demanded that two Jews, a man and woman, clean his house. The Jewish Council sent Henia Zacherevitch (Asher's daughter) and Chona (Chanan) Kagan, the son of the ritual slaughter from Delatitch. Going there was frightening and almost a torture, but they had no choice. Once, Henia was ordered to strip and dance naked before the commander. When he used to go to the bathhouse, which was located by the ghetto fence, he would look through binoculars to see if there were a lot of children in the ghetto.
All the Jewish doctors from Lubtch and the surrounding towns lived in the building of the former Tarbut school. One day, very early in the morning, the place commander went into the building and noticed that the doctors were covered with good quilts. He called for Chaim Bruk and demanded that he get him two quilts. Chaim declared that he could not provide these.
The next day, the commander came to the Jewish Council and said to Bruk: Come here, Bruk. Now I'll give you a cover.
He pulled Chaim by the arm and ordered him to go with him on a sanitation tour of the ghetto. There was a trench from the time of First World War in one of the gardens not far from Chaim-Meir Yedidovitch's house. As is known, since houses in Lubtch had no water pipes or toilets, people had to relieve themselves in their gardens, and the trench was very suitable for this purpose. The commander found the place and had the two Jewish policemen sent for, Itche Rosenblum (Mishke Bezpaletze's son) and Avraham Halperstein ( Naftali's son). Before they got there, he shot Chaim Bruk and then shot both of them. No one, except for the families, was allowed out of the ghetto to attend the funeral which took place the very same day. There was great sorrow. Chaim Bruk, the crown of Lubtch Jews and our only protector, had fallen. The doctors in the ghetto promised to support Henia and her children, and they kept their word.
Shortly after Chaim's death, all those capable of work were ordered to be sent to Vorobievitch. Only the elderly, infirm and children were to remain in the ghetto. Another group of a hundred young men were taken to Novogrudek. A few days later they were allowed to bring their wives and children. Our family, too, was taken to Novogrudek.
I shall add a few details about life in the Lubtch ghetto which have remained etched in my memory.
As the synagogues were occupied by Jews from Neishtot, (Negnievitch), Delatitch and surrounding villages, prayer services were no longer held there. My father brought a Torah scroll into our house, and the neighbors used to come to our home to pray. The rabbi from Delatitch, Rabbi Yaakov Baksht, also prayed with us. On the holiday of Simchat Torah 1941, Rabbi Shalom Ziman came to our house to pray. He was a very good prayer leader. When it came to the part of the service where the worshipers carry the Torah scrolls around the platform on which the Torah is read, the worshipers danced around the table and were a little joyful. The women were standing and weeping. Shalom Ziman called out to the women:
Women, don't cry! I prayed and sang last year and we lived through this year. I'm praying and singing again and we'll live to pray next year as well.
There was a warehouse next to the pharmacy in Lubtch. When we were left naked and barefoot after the gentiles robbed our possessions, the Jews opened the warehouse and distributed empty sacks out of which we sewed clothes. Reuven Movshovitch (the baker) used to carve wooden shoes. As we had no money to pay him, we would pay with our ration coupons for bread. Every person used to get a total of 120 grams of bread a day, some of which we still had to save for the shoes.
The Jews in the ghetto were very religious. No woman went around without a kerchief on her head. People fasted twice a week. Even 10 year old children had already begun fasting. Younger children were taught to pray and older children also studied the Bible. The deep faith we had in God kept up our spirit and gave us the strength to bear all the trials and tribulations. Unfortunately, no salvation came from Heaven. And when the enemy pounced on us, none of those who believed, hoped and waited for that day remained alive.
[unknown, Haim Yankelevitch, Elka Yankelevitch, unknown]
by Yisrael Yankelevitch
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
I was in the ghetto in Novogrudek together with the Jews who survived the first massacre which was carried out in December 1941.
In July 1942, the Germans began rounding up the Jews from the surrounding towns: Karelitch, Mir, Ivenyetz, Zshetel and others. Hitler's agents drove the remaining exhausted, starving Jews, who could hardly stand on their feet, into our ghetto which was confining enough even for the inhabitants of our ghetto. However, an order was issued by the Gestapo chief requiring all Jews to find a place to live within an hour, and anyone found in the street would be shot.
There was a tumult in the ghetto and everyone was thrown into a panic. And Jews, merciful children of merciful parents, the inhabitants of the ghetto, began sharing their narrow quarters with their newly arrived brethren, putting them up in attics, barns, cellars until all of them were settled. That evening, a group of drunk and wildly excited Hitler's henchmen came on an inspection and, finding everything in order, called to the head of the Jewish Council:
You said that it was too tight, that there was no room, but you were still able to accommodate all your Jews. But don't worry, Jews, in the future we, the Gestapo, will know how to provide you with more dwellings, and they went off.
When the Jews found out what the Nazis said, everyone already understood that a live volcano was threatening to erupt over the ghetto, that something terrible was about to take place. And that is, in fact, what happened:
Two weeks later, the second slaughter of Jews in the ghetto took place. Six thousand five hundred Jews were murdered in the most bestial and agonizing way. The Jews were made to lie face-down on the streets and the excited Hitler lovers and Jew haters would come with trucks and load them up with Jews: men, women and children who watched with terrified eyes. They wanted to live, but the bloodthirsty murderers cut them down cruelly.
I was among the lucky ones who remained alive. Shortly afterwards, we organized and escaped into the forest, although there were still some Jews left in the ghetto. It was clear to us, however, that the murderers would slaughter everyone.
We were a small group of Jews in the forest. It was just before the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. There was an elderly Jew among us, Reb Alter Tiktin, from Bialystok. He exclaimed:
Children, I have a yahrzeit [anniversary of a relative's death] on the second day of Rosh Hashana, and I have never missed a yahrzeit. It's Rosh Hashana, and we're alive and we're Jews. Therefore, let's arrange a prayer service with 10 men and we'll pray this Rosh Hashana just to spite the Hitler supporters.
Everyone agreed, but where could we get holiday prayer books? Another fellow and I took it upon ourselves to go into the ghetto and bring back prayer books. That night we went into the town and in the morning, when the people remaining in the ghetto went outside the ghetto to fetch water, we mixed and mingled with them and in that way were able to get into the ghetto. We got prayer books and, taking another group of Jews with us, sneaked out of the ghetto that night. We reached the forest just at daybreak and gave Reb Alter the holiday prayer books.
Reb Alter stood beside a tree praying on the first day of Rosh Hashana. When he reached the stirring u'netane tokef prayer [Let us recite the power of this day's holiness ], he wept loudly as he recited the words who by the sword, who by famine, who by thirst and shouted out, but not with all his might, that we Jews who have fallen into Hitler's hands should be the last victims for the Jewish people and then fainted. We could hardly rouse him.
Some time later the Germans launched an attack on our camp during which Reb Alter was killed.
Today I'm just like other people. I'm an American citizen and have nothing to complain about, but I still feel today as though I were in camp on that Rosh Hashana and want to shout out:
Brother Jews, Remember Amalek!
by Shalom Leibovitch
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
A few days after the outbreak of the Soviet-German War in June, 1941, several Germans came into our town. They called the local gentiles together and allowed them to loot Jewish property. The gentiles, of course, didn't have to be asked. For three days in a row, without a stop, they stole whatever they could. While doing so, they brought us the good tidings that the Jews, in any case, would soon be exterminated and no trace of us would remain. Three local gentiles, Alyosha Aleshkes, Arkady the Bolshevik and Sioma Komornik, stood out above the others in plundering our possessions.
There were, however, a few Christian residents who stood up for us and would not let others rob us. Their names must be mentioned here: Vanke the Tall Man and the members of the Komarovsy family who lived in a hamlet near Delatitch. These few honest people were the only ray of light in the darkness which descended upon the world in those terrible days.
The Germans set up their command headquarters and the police in our town. At the same time, they appointed a Jewish Council They also herded all the Jews into a ghetto which was located in a small area of the former horse market and synagogue, a total of thirty houses.
They also forbade us to bring food into the ghetto and allotted only 120 grams of bread a day for each person. This was the start of the terrible period of suffering and the beginning of the end.
One day they took away 150 young Jewish men and sent them to do hard labor in Dvoretz, a small town 6 kilometers from Novoyelnia. Not one of them ever returned.
We were all assigned jobs doing various kinds of work in surrounding areas.
One day, (I, unfortunately, can't remember the exact date), they locked up a few hundred Jews in a barn in Vorobievitch and set it on fire. Those who managed to save themselves from the flames were shot while escaping.
In Voynova as well, several hundred Jews were shot in a slaughter in which Isaakovsky, the pharmacist, was also murdered with his paralyzed wife whom he carried in his arms from the town to the ditch where they were all shot.
Twenty-four days into the Jewish month of Av, 5702 , the last massacres took place in Lubtch and Novogrudek in which nearly all the Jews were murdered. Only a few managed to save their lives.
While I was in the ghetto in Lubtch, men would come into my room and pray and study Torah on the Sabbath. Among the worshipers were Rabbi Yaakov Baksht and Rabbi Yitzchak Aronovsky.
Once, the Germans came to the Jewish Council and demanded a horse and wagon so they could go hunting in the surrounding forests. Chaim Bruk sent for me and ordered me to go with the Germans. At the start, the Germans took me for a Christian, and I played along. But when they found out that I was a Jew, they said to me: Damn Jew, you're going to be 'kaput' [dead] and they began shooting their guns. Luckily for me, a peasant with whom I was acquainted, noticed what was happening and began to plead that they should let me live. As they were in a good mood at that moment, they made a motion with their hands as if to say, He'll never escape from our hands anyway. And that's how I was saved from death. They also ordered me to bring bread for the people in Dvoretz.
Dovid-Itche's daughter, Yehudit Leibovitch, lived in Dvoretz. She managed to escape from there and join her mother in the camp near Varobievitch. Someone informed on her, and the Germans seized and shot her with her mother, Leah Leibovitch , may God avenge their blood!
The Germans decided, however, to scare the others from trying to escape, and for the same sin, they also shot Leibe-Feivel with his son-in-law, Alter Kabak as well as Chashke and Grunia. They were the first Jewish victims in Vorobievitch. When the Jews in Lubtch were driven en masse to Vorobievitch, my elderly stepmother, Bayle-Fayge, fell down on the way and they shot her in the middle of the road.
During the slaughter, four young men escaped from the ghetto and made their way to Bassia, a village near Novogrudek, where there were some more Jews. They went into a peasant's house and asked to borrow a bucket. The peasant went to the police and informed on them. The Germans took them to the police station where they were beaten to death.
My son Simcha got married and lived in Novogrudek, so we moved into the ghetto in Novogrudek before the last massacre. It was there, in fact, that my wife, our son and his two daughters were killed, may God avenge their blood!
Every day, we - a group of 12 Jews - used to leave the Novogrudek ghetto and go to our forced work in Bassia. Once, a member of our group managed to buy a little flour from a peasant. On the way, the Germans stopped and inspected us. They took away the flour, wrote down our names and went away. The next day, they came into the ghetto to look for us and shoot us. We had, however, given false names, and that saved us.
On another occasion, Kolia Komornik and Petrik Bedoon came into Elikum Halperin's house and took him to the commander's quarters. There, they ordered him to kiss Stalin's picture. When he fulfilled their wishes, they beat him with wild, sadistic pleasure. Then they ordered him to bark like a dog, and he had to obey them. But they said he wasn't barking loud enough, so they beat him until he was unconscious. They threw him back into the ghetto in that condition. We wrapped him in wet bed sheets, and cooled his burning wounds. Three days later, he was forced to go to work, although he could hardly stand on his feet. Incidentally, we should mention that Petrik Bedoon was captured after the war and put on trial in Russia.
Following the slaughter in Novogrudek, the Germans concentrated the remaining Jews in the ghetto on Peresika Street. I spoke to a group of Jews about escaping while there was still time.
During the day, I tore loose a few boards from the wooden fence so we wouldn't have to make any noise at night. We kept them on the fence, however, so that no one would notice. Late that evening, we went out through the prepared opening one after the other and began running. On the way, a gentile ran into us and immediately notified the Germans. Soon enough, they started firing at us. We fell to the ground and lay there motionless for a long time. When things quieted down, we began running again and reached the barracks. From there we separated and went away to various villages.
Shalom Leibovitch is seated second from the left
Our group came to Vereskova, not far from Delatitch. During the day, we hid there in a field. At nightfall, when we knew that the peasants were already asleep, we left for Delatitch, intending to cross the Neiman River in order to reach the hamlets in the nearby forest.
Just as we took our first steps on the bridge at Delatitch, we heard a German guard shout: Halt! Remain standing! Fortunately, the night was very dark and we were able to vanish before the German noticed us. It was dangerous to stay in one place, so we started walking along the riverbank, hoping that we might have some kind of opportunity to cross the Neiman River at another point. And as Heaven was watching over us so that we could save ourselves, we found a small rowboat on the shore, as though it had been made ready for us. One at a time, I brought everyone across to the other (right) side of the river, and we reached the forest that same night.
A cold rain mixed with snow was falling. It soaked our clothes right through to our body. We were hungry and exhausted from walking, and our wet bodies were shivering from the cold. We had to get something to eat to relieve our hunger as quickly as possible. I was afraid but decided anyway to go into Farbotke's cabin and ask him for a little food. He was very kind and gave me a piece of bread with some milk, which restored our energy.
We left Farbotke's cabin and went on to Komarovsky's place in the hamlet. He also welcomed us and gave us something to eat and drink, but couldn't hide twelve men in his house. What were we to do next? We went back into the forest. Meanwhile, a peasant noticed us and, taking us for partisans, reported to the police that partisans were attacking Komarovsky. Fortunately, the sun came out and dried up the grass and erased our tracks.
We moved on to Klutchist and intended to put up a shelter, but we found fresh traces of woodcutters, so we left for Krasno-Horka, where we sat down and rested. Our stomachs were grumbling, however, so a few of our men returned to Farbotke's cabin and asked him for some more food. He gave us a bag of flour and three potatoes as well as a pail to cook them in. We went back to our men with these possessions.
Having eaten our fill, we decided to split into two groups. A group of seven people including my children stayed with me. We thought that two smaller groups would be able to manage more easily and not attract the attention of the peasants.
After wandering through the forest for ten days, we came closer to Baksht. There, I happened to meet a gentile with whom I was acquainted and he gave me a piece of bread for my daughter Shifra, who had grown very weak and no longer had the strength to go on. The same gentile helped us get to our peasants in the district of Potashne from whom we received some bread and other food. He also brought us a rifle and 85 bullets for which I gave him a pair of leather soles.
The next day the same gentile brought us bread and butter. This, however, aroused in us the suspicion that that he might inform the police, who paid 50 marks and a kilo of sugar for every Jew turned in. We began to hide from this good person, but he always found us, brought food and encouraged us with good words.
We built a hut in the forest and stayed there. We also found a ditch with potatoes and carried them back little by little to our shelter. I used to visit the peasants in the surrounding villages and got bread from them. The rifle was more than a little help to me. A peasant whom I knew saw that I was going around barefoot and that my feet were wrapped only with hay and tied with laces. He gave me a pair of shoes made of bark with linen rags, which simply revived me.
A few days before Rosh Hashana, five Jews from Ivya came to this good peasant. He told them that we were hiding out in the surrounding area. They started looking for us and one morning we met each other. It's hard to describe how surprised and happy we were to meet living Jews.
Our hut, however, was too small for a larger group of people, so we decided to enlarge it so that we could all be together.
One day on the way to Potashne, we ran into a bunch of armed men. First they took away our guns and then began questioning who we were. Yisrael answered: We're the same as you - partisans. They asked us for a parole, a watchword that we were really partisans. In short, they brought us to their commander and the investigation was renewed. Finally, the commander ordered that we should all be taken out to be shot because we were plain robbers and undeserving of mercy. However, if one is destined to remain alive, help always comes even at the last moment. The commander was just then staying in the house of the good peasant from whom we got the rifle. Hearing the order, the peasant called out: They're not robbers and have never hurt anyone. They only ask for food and don't grab it. I can guarantee that they are decent people and deserve to be helped.
When he heard the peasant's remarks, the commander quickly changed his order. He gave us back our rifles and informed us that Bielsky's group of partisans would soon be passing through and that we could join up with them. We didn't wait long and quickly returned to our shelter.
Berl, Baruch-Mordechai's son, and Mendel Goldshmidt from Baksht left for Leznievitch, not far from Ivya. On the way, they encountered partisans who wanted to kill them. They started to cry and beg for their lives. The partisans took Berl with his rifle and left to gather food. Later, they released him but kept his rifle.
Meanwhile, we found out that a number of partisan groups from the Stalin unit had arrived in Potashne with their commander. A few of us went over there and told about the rifle that had been taken away. The commander gave a written order that we should be given food because we belonged to his partisans. However, he demanded that we also give him the bullets because we didn't have rifles anyway. We pretended not to hear him and went off as quickly as possible. Thereupon, the commander ordered that we be seized and that the sentence be carried out. A peasant whom we knew was listening and went into the forest with an axe as if he were going to chop wood. He chased after us and told us about the commander's order. I collected all the bullets and went back to give them to the commander. On the way, I met a peasant who asked: Where are you going, 'priest'**? I answered: I'm going to the village where the partisans are staying. He told me to jump onto the wagon because he was going there, too. Without giving it much thought, I got onto the wagon and noticed that our rifles were there. However, I didn't say anything until we entered the village. Once there, I convinced the commander that our rifles should be returned and that, naturally, we should be allowed to keep the bullets. However, they warned us not to go looking for food because they would provide us with food in three days.
Another incident occurred when we lacked food and Yisrael Slonimsky used force to take away bread from a peasant. The peasant reported this at the partisans' headquarters. We were all brought before the commander who ordered the peasant to tell which one of us did this, adding that they weren't going to play games but just put a bullet in the culprit's head. Apparently, the peasant's conscience was awakened or maybe he was afraid of our revenge. He looked at each of us very carefully-although he knew us all more or less well- and declared that it was someone else and that he didn't see him among us. The commander had no choice but to release us and even gave us bread and meat so that we wouldn't have to take food away from anyone by force.
We began buying weapons from the peasants. We also gave Bielsky's partisans a machine gun and a grenade launcher. Every one of our group, which already numbered thirty something people, was well armed and we officially became partisans belonging to the Stalin unit. In fact, we were transferred to the area where the unit was carrying out its activities.
The great pursuit of the German forces in the partisans' zone got under way. Its aim was to completely liquidate the partisan movement in western White Russia.
The commander, knowing that the Germans were getting closer, sent a person to bring me to him in order to warn me of the danger so that we wouldn't fall into enemy hands. After listening to his talk, I asked him to let us withdraw together with the unit. He advised me, however, to stay in one place because the children were too weak to go on such a dangerous way and encounter battles which awaited the temporarily retreating partisans. He also advised us to hide in a hole somewhere in the forest and not build any bunkers because the Germans would surely find them.
When I returned to our people, I told them what the commander had said. Twenty-four of the group separated from us and built a new, well camouflaged shelter. The children, Mendel from Baksht and I left to look for another hiding place. During the day we hid in the swamps, which the Germans usually avoided. At night, we would leave the swamps and light a small fire to warm our bones and boil a little water.
The hunt for the partisans lasted three days. 63,000 Germans combed the whole area. They used tanks and even airplanes, but they didn't have much success. On one of those days, we heard terrible screams. When the Germans left, we searched the surroundings and found the tortured bodies of the people who had separated from our group. We buried them in the forest and recited kaddish at the fresh grave of our brethren.
It was hard to get food after the pursuit. We hardly ate anything for five days. We ate whatever we could find, even spoiled and wormy food. It didn't last long, however, and the partisans' way of life resumed. We came out of the forest, went back to the villages, moved freely without fear and, as strange as it may seem, the number of partisans actually increased. The Germans' hunt for partisans as well as their cruelty towards the peasants during the pursuit brought the peasants into the ranks of the partisans.
We built a new shelter in the area of Baksht and stayed there until the liberation. After the liberation, the commander advised us to go over to Bielsky's partisans. We followed his advice and, together with them, came to Novogrudek - the city without Jews.
[Note from Allen Katz:
Standing 2nd from right Sonya Yankelevitch
Seated in the middle, 3rd from right Yisrol (Yisrael) Gershon Yankelevitch]
[**Note from the translator: As for the priest, the author (partisan) apparently had a very long beard, which made him look like a typical Russian Orthodox priest. I just now decided to put quotation marks around the priest, so readers will know that he's not really a priest. The word, by the way, is batchko, and two Russian speakers told me that means a priest.]
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