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The Holocaust {cont'd}

[Page 282]

Tearful Events

Israel Greenberg (Afula)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

On Tuesday, August 25, 1942, we received an order for all the Jews, without exception, to present themselves at 8:00 a.m. on the following day in the market square near the new synagogue. If anyone would be absent, the whole family would be punished. Late at night, Lifsha, my brother Hershel's wife, came to us crying. She told us that a police officer had come to collect his boots from the Zeshlichov shoemaker. The work was incomplete and the policeman whispered a secret: All the Jews will be murdered on the next day.

We yelled at her that she should not panic for anything and she went back home sobbing. We felt uneasy and did not sleep a wink all night. In the morning we went to the market place and stood together as a family. When the militia began to shoot, I escaped with Pessyah Kutz's son and hid in a garden. We could not stay there for very long and we had to continue running. A German caught us and took us to the train cars waiting at the station. Some 400-500 people, crammed into the train, were taken to Sarny. Sender Perl's daughter and Moshe Turok's wife had been badly wounded, but they were still thrown into the cars, as were all the wounded. In Sarny we encountered a train full of Jews from Dombrovitza. We were all taken to a camp on Polske (on the road to Tutovich, past the hospital). We were heavily guarded. We were housed in four or five barracks.

We had nothing to eat or drink for two days. Whenever anyone approached the fence, he or she would be shot. We were not allowed to bury our dead. Sender Perl's daughter died on the third day. Her mother and I carried her out and we placed her body among the dead. At around 12 o'clock, one of the Rokitno Judenrat was called to present himself. Noah Soltzman immediately went and returned crying. He gave us the terrible news that we were all to be annihilated. Soltzman and his family, my father Avraham Itzhak and I, my father-in-law Yehoshua Wolfin (from Hrapon) and a few other Jews went together. There were approximately 20 of us. Soltzman beat his chest and said: “We have sinned. We are guilty.” My father prayed “Vidui”.

We reached the narrow gauge railway. Nine of us were sent to the side. They were: 1. Israel Greenberg, 2. Motel Levin, 3. Levik Rotman, 4. Moshe Grinshpan (son of Avraham), 5. Hershel Hailcheks, 6. A Jew from Karpilovka, 7. Aharon Levin, 8. Michael Keks' brother-in-law (He owned a flour warehouse), 9. Buzik Portnoy (from Stariky). All the rest were ordered to undress – women and children separated from the men. They were led to the ditches. The miserable souls lay down and were immediately shot.

The slaughter went on till evening. Those who were still alive knew the end was near. They ignited one of the barracks. They were able to run away because they cut the fence as they were protected by the smoke. Unfortunately, not many were able to escape. Blood was streaming like water.

I knew that my situation in the camp was dreadful. I tried to think of a way out. In the meantime a truck was brought to remove the clothing of the dead. I climbed on the truck and began to pack the clothes. I hid under a pile of clothing.

When the truck was filled, it left immediately. On the way I decided to try to jump off. However, the truck was accompanied by another one full of killers. The driver did not know that I was hiding on the truck.

When I was sure that there was no one else around, I revealed myself to the driver. I begged him for my life. After I gave him a generous tip he told me to jump over a fence and to lie down. I crawled on my stomach to an open cattle car and I lay there till nightfall. The train was on the Rovno track.

On the way I saw many men, women and children. I left the train at the Mokvin station by jumping off. It was late at night. I started on the road to Brezhne. A kind local warned me that all the Jews of Brezhne had been killed and that I would be in danger there. I went in the opposite direction and reached the village of Ilova.

There I found my uncle Yakov Greenberg, my aunt Zlate, her son-in-law Shlomo Rekkes with his three children. I asked Shlomo to go with me to look for our wives. His wife and daughter had also escaped from the market square.

We sat together for an hour crying and then we said our good-byes. We went towards Rokitno. On the way, I heard children crying, but I did not see anyone. Near Rokitno, at the graves, I saw something black approaching. It was Avraham Grinshpan. He was injured and was hidden by a local man called Frohor Lukian. At night the man hid him in the barn and in the daytime he was in the forest.

I asked him to tell my wife, if he ran into her, that I was going to the forests of Zolovey. I came to a hamlet near Zolovey. The forest warden who lived there was called Lavoren Tzalkovsky. I went to sleep in the barn. In the morning I went to another local man in the Blizhov hamlets. His name was Miron. There I found Aharon, Nachman and Yosef Blizhovsky, Aharon Perlovich and Noah Rafalovich. The next night Asher, the blacksmith from Zolovey, arrived. He told us that the local residents of Zolovey had captured his father, mother and sister and took them to Rokitno. It was a miracle that he had escaped.

We stayed together. Once Tzalkovsky came with Miron and demanded that we find another hiding place. The locals were talking about him. Asher and I went to a hamlet in Kopele and stayed with another local called Alexander Yanevich. He took us to the loft in his barn and brought us food. He told me that if I found my wife, Yentl, he would hide her, too.

From there we went back to Miron. I asked him if he knew where my wife was. He answered: “If you give me some liquor, I will tell you where she is”. I fulfilled his request and he took me to a place 3 kilometers away. We came to a thicket in the forest. Our dear ones were lying there covered with a tarpaulin. We cried quietly looking at the terrible situation in which people could find themselves. They were sleeping and did not hear our crying. I woke them up. It was an emotional reunion. There lay my wife, Yentl, her sister, Henya Kutz, her daughter Hindl and Ita Trossman (Yechiel's wife) with her 3-year-old daughter Marel. We immediately built a fire and they warmed themselves up a little. My wife asked me if I had a piece of bread for little Marel. I actually had some bread and I gave Marel a piece of it. She tasted it and told her mother: “Hide the rest for tomorrow”. We stayed together for three days. On the fourth day at midnight, I noticed someone approaching us. It was Adam, Lavoren Tzalkovsky's brother. He whispered a secret to me – his brother intended to kill me and my wife. He came to warn us so that we should leave the forest. When we reached his home he gave us a loaf of bread and informed us that he could not hide my wife.

We went to another local resident called Frank Garvovsky, from Berezov. I told him about our terrible situation and asked him for advice. He cried profusely about our calamity. We looked awful – hungry, scared and panicky. He was moved by our appearance. He offered us a place for the night. Asher left and went to Blizhov, to Miron.

Frank hid us in the loft of his barn. It was extremely cold there and we had no food. One day, in daytime, we heard a noise in the yard. Through a slit we saw 10 police officers with guns. Frank had invited the police officers to his house and he was plying them with food and liquor. When it became dark, Frank's son came and told us to run to the forest. He would call us back when the police leave.

Early in the morning we heard shooting. We immediately put out our fire and we hid in a thicket. Only G-d knows how we got in. When it quieted down I told my wife that Vatzlav Raviky lived in a nearby hamlet. I wanted to go to him to find out why there was shooting. On the way, I saw three people hiding under a stump. When I came closer I heard them speaking Yiddish. They were Asher Binder, his cousin Katya Binder and Baruch Schwartzblat. They told me that they had hidden with a group of 23 Jews. They were attacked on the way and those who fell were: 1. Nahum Katzenelson, 2. Misha Berezovsky, 3. Leibl Lifshitz, 4. Yehoshua Itzhak Zilberman and his son Boria, 5. Shalom Zilberman, 6. Mendl Schwartzblat and a few others.

Eventually, I found Yechiel Trossman. I told him that I had seen his wife a few weeks earlier. Trossman reacted to the news with an emotional outpour and went to look for her.

The partisans came closer to our area. Once I met a partisan officer – a Jew from Kiev. He brought us to a site where there were many partisans armed with machine guns. They gave me a pair of boots, a large fur piece and other clothes and I became one of them. The partisans were very tired and they assigned me to do night watch. I was told to wake them up if I heard anything suspicious.

The officer believed it was still too early for us to join the rest of the partisans. He urged me to wait. “However,” he added, “I want you to go back as free people. I will, today, give a speech in the village to all the local residents. I will tell them that if they mistreat any Jews or kill them, we will burn down the entire village”.

We parted from the officer. We hugged and kissed each other and then we left. We went back to Blizhov. My wife and I had received new woven shoes and we began our journey. It was extremely dark. My wife had no strength to continue and we went into a hamlet near Blizhov. There we met Baruch Blizhovsky and Baruch Perlovich. They told us that we did well in coming there. This village belonged to the partisans and it was safe.

It was really true. The Jews were free to roam the village and were employed by the local residents. One of the locals told me that my sister-in-law Henya Kutz was nearby. She was sewing jackets. We spent a whole day with her. At night we went with her to the forest to a lean-to made of branches where Yechiel Trossman and his family and Henya Kutz and her daughter had hidden. They told me that not far from there in another dugout were Avraham Gotlieb and his family, Leah, Haya, Hindl, Vitka, Hiska and his sister's two children, Haya and Haim Wasserman. We stayed with them. We built a proper lean-to for the whole family. Later, Baruch Schwartzblat arrived. The women and the girls knitted sweaters from threads. Avraham Gotlieb and I would exchange the sweaters for eggs at night.

Once, on a Friday, we heard loud shooting. We jumped up, not knowing what was happening. Soon, a local acquaintance came and told us that a large number of partisans had come. They surrounded the village of Yelena and burned it. The loud bangs came from a warehouse where bombs were stored. The partisans killed around 100 people. The rest ran away and were hiding near us. He advised us to run away from our lean-to because our lives were in danger. We followed his advice and we ran wherever we could. In fact, the murderers immediately came and burned down our lean-to. These were murderers who had fought with the partisans. They helped the Germans who had promised them an “independent Ukraine”.

The good man was really a messenger from G-d. His advice saved our lives.

[Page 287]

Pages From The Holocaust

Israel Pinchuk (Haifa)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

At normal times there were cordial relations between the Jews and their Christian neighbors. However, when the Nazis entered, our neighbors became our enemies and washed their hands in our blood. We heard rumors that in David-Horodok the local residents killed all the Jewish men. A short time later, the Jews left the village of Vitkovich. They were pursued by the locals and, 3 kilometers away from the village, they were all brutally murdered.

Three months later the Judenrat managed to obtain permission to remove the bodies of the Vitkovich martyrs from the forest. This is where they were killed and their bodies hidden. We wanted to give them a proper burial in Glinna. Words cannot describe the horrors we witnessed. Most of the bodies were cut into small pieces and could not be identified.

After the destruction of the Jews of Vitkovich, we ran away to Rokitno where we performed forced labor. I was attached to a work unit whose task was repairing the railroad tracks and the bridges. We carried on our backs metal tracks, heavy planks and beams. Life was difficult. The food supplies were meager and hunger oppressed us. Rumors of destruction were rampant. We heard that the Jews of Olevsk were annihilated.

On August 26, 1942 the final roll call of the Jews of Rokitno was held. As I stood next to my father, Avraham, I heard shouts: “The German police are surrounding us!” I escaped into the synagogue yard. I hid in a garbage can and I put the lid on. A few minutes later, a German came and threatened to kill me. He removed me from the garbage can and brought me to the train station.

The market place resembled a killing field. The Germans were yelling at those who were trying to escape: “Stop! I will shoot!” I remember that Noah Soltzman's daughter was begging “chief” Sokolovsky: “Please don't shoot!” This plea softened his heart and he ordered the shooting stopped.

At the station there were freight cars used for transporting cattle. They were guarded by men armed with machine guns. We were put into the cars which were tightly packed. Some of us were badly injured.

When we reached Sarny we were taken out like sheep to a slaughter. One of the last to leave was my mother, Hava-Shifra. I caught her in my arms. She had been caught by the Germans when she hid in the stable in Dr. Anishtchuk's yard. From the train station we were brought to a field fenced with barbed wire. It was located on the other side of the tracks (Zapoliska). The heat was unbearable. The SS men, assisted by the Ukrainian militia, surrounded us holding machine guns. Soon we were joined by Jews from Dombrovitza, Bereshenitz, Klesov and Tomoshgorod. We did not eat all day. We waited with heavy hearts for what was to come.

We exchanged gold and jewelry for some water which the local residents brought us in a shoe or a hat. Everyone wanted a swig of water and we pushed towards the fence. The Germans shot at those crowding together. Some were injured and many were killed. I recall that I succeeded in obtaining a tomato which had been thrown over the fence by a local woman. The shohet from Blizhov asked me for a slice of tomato for his granddaughter. I gave it to him and he blessed me with long life. In the meantime, we heard rumors that we would be taken to a central location. There the families would be separated and the young men would be sent to do forced labor. We stood tense and nervous on the field for a day and a night. We did not close our eyes. Crying and sobbing were heard from several directions. The rumor was whispered that the Sarny Judenrat was trying to free us. This filled us with hope and encouraged us. Even when the sharp sword was on our necks, we still remained hopeful. Then, the Jews of Sarny were brought in and our hopes were dashed. It was extremely crowded and we knew something terrible was coming.

At 3:00 p.m. the Jews of Rokitno were informed by the Jewish police to prepare to leave. We knew that we were being led to a slaughter because the injured and the dead were with us. The Nazis even took pictures of this death march. I will never forget the shudder that overcame me when I saw, from a distance, the ditches. My mother whispered to me: “My dear son, these are the final minutes of our lives and there will be no one to say Kaddish for me”. I replied that her son Shalom was in Russia and her son Baruch was in Eretz Israel and they would remember her. (Unfortunately, Shalom fell in the battle of Berlin and Baruch in the War of Independence).

We approached the ditches. The SS and the Ukrainian militia stood around them armed with automatic rifles and machine guns. They were prepared to annihilate us. Fear of death befuddled and numbed us. We stood in groups of four. We did not know what would happen to us. We were ordered to undress completely. The men were separated from the women and children. I parted from my mother and I stood in the fourth row close to the ditches.

That moment I decided to escape, no matter what. I whispered to those standing near me to run away since we had nothing to lose. At least we would be part of the spilling of the blood of those close to us. We jumped shouting “Shema Israel” and we began to run with our last strength. We fell down and got up and the killers shot at us from all directions. I reached the forest alone – naked as a baby.

In the forest I met the two sons of Avraham and Haim Blizhovsky from Sarny. One of them gave me a shirt and the other – a pair of pants with a belt. (I still have the belt). A young girl from Nimovitz (near Sarny), the daughter of Hannah, was with them. She was covered in blood from those who were wounded when they were trying to escape.

We crawled for about two kilometers and we pondered our next move. The Blizhovsky boys went to the side and whispered. I understood that they intended to leave me. This is, indeed, what happened. The young girl remained with me. We waited for them all night. There were armed forest wardens all around us looking for escapees so that they could hand them over to the Nazis. By morning, the brothers had not returned.

On Shabbat, the third day of the slaughter, we saw a farmer from a distance. We asked him the way to Nimovitz. He shuddered when he saw us and he continued on his way. Two hours later he returned with food for us. He told us that he was a Baptist and that two young Jews had been caught and killed nearby. We understood that the Blizhovsky brothers were dead.

We stayed there till nightfall and we started towards Nimovitz. The young girl was a native of that village and she knew the residents. When we reached a hamlet near Nimovitz, we saw farmers returning from Sarny. They were laden with goods they had stolen from Jewish homes. We went to the hamlet and the farmer's wife gave us food and allowed us to sleep in the stable. The next day, the farmer brought us potatoes and showed us the way to Nimovitz. He calmed us down by telling us the residents were also Baptists and would not hurt the Jews.

On the way the young girl thought of one of her acquaintances called Hovodor. We decided to go to him. We reached his house in the evening, but we did not go inside. We slept outside. At dawn when the shepherds went out with their herds, they began to shout: “Jews! Jews!” The forest warden arrested us and was taking us to Sarny to hand us over to the Nazis. We passed through a village whose residents were Baptists. They asked the warden to hand us over to the mayor. One of the Baptists noticed that I was murmuring Psalms: “To the victor, a psalm of David. G-d will help you in your difficulties!” He consoled me saying that they would try to save us. The residents distracted the warden and motioned for us to escape. The young girl managed to escape. I was very weak and I could not run. However, the villagers delayed the warden and enabled me to run away.

I ran to Hovodor's house and there I found the young girl. He built me a shelter from branches, about 300 meters from his house. He provided me with food all the time. On the eve of Succoth, Hovodor, one of the Righteous of the World, came to me and told me that the rainy season was approaching and the shelter would not suffice. Also, there was another great danger since the Germans were hunting for partisans who had been seen in the area.

He suggested that I move to a different location. I walked to the Rokitno forest hoping to find some remnants of my family. Hovodor accompanied me to the railroad tracks and showed me the direction to the forests of Strashov. Before he parted from me, he hugged and kissed me and told me: “Let G-d be on your side and let him keep you from harm. May you reach your destination in peace.”

At night I crossed the Slutz River and I waded in ponds and swamps. I walked through the forest for a long time until I reached, at dawn, the village of Osnitzek. My feet were swollen, but I continued on my way until I reached the village of Glinna. I stayed around there for two weeks until I found some members of my family.

Some time later, a partisan camp was established in the area. I received propaganda materials from them and I distributed them with my brother-in-law, Yechiel Trossman, among the area residents. I urged them to rebel against the Germans. When the camp left the area we joined the Kotovsky division. I fulfilled various tasks there. When the area was liberated by the Soviets in 1944, I joined a special reconnaissance unit which functioned behind enemy lines near Kovel. We had clashes with German reconnaissance units. As the Red Army was advancing, most of the partisans were fighting the Banderovtzis who were anti-Soviet. I stayed in this function until the end of the war.

At the end of 1945 I left and reached Germany. After many trials and tribulations I was on my way to Eretz Israel.

[Page 291]

Self Sacrifice Of A Mother

Yosef Segal (Neve Oz)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

My sister Gitel Segal-Wolman, and her 15 year-old son Shloimele, were confined in the Rokitno ghetto, as were all the Jews in town. They felt the holocaust coming and decided that when the worst moment came, they would escape and hide with a peasant they knew. He lived in a village called Netrebe, 20 kilometers from Rokitno. They agreed that if they could not run together, each one of them would try to get there on their own.

The terrible day came – the 13 th of Elul, 1942. The Germans and their Ukrainian cohorts gathered all the Jews in the market square and began to shoot at them. My sister and her son ran from the killing area in different directions and they lost sight of each other. My sister was the first to reach the peasant. She waited for her son for several days. She assumed that he had been killed in the market square. Out of sorrow and longing she decided to give herself up to the Germans. The peasant tried to talk her out of this dangerous decision. He was prepared to continue to hide her in his place. However, one day, early in the morning, she left the peasant's house, returned to Rokitno and was murdered by the Ukrainians.

Several days later, her son Shloimele reached the peasant's house. He had hidden in the forest. His mother was gone. Some time later, he too was murdered by another peasant.

[Page 291]

The Destruction Of Toupik

Eliahu Freger (Kiryat Frustig)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

On the eve of Yom Kippur 1941, the Jews of the village of Vitkovich were slaughtered. Immediately after the massacre, a peasant woman came to our house and advised us to run away to Bilovizh. She heard that the murderers were coming to Toupik on the following day. My father did not want to desecrate the Holy Day and refused to move from his place. On the morning of Yom Kippur the same woman returned with terrible news: The murderers had already arrived in Toupik. I went outside to verify the news. I saw our shepherd signaling with his hands. I did not understand the signals. However, another peasant from Vitkovich, called Durko, immediately approached me. His hands and clothes were bloodied. After he excused himself for interrupting me on this day holy to the Jews, he said, “Yesterday we killed all the Jews of Vitkovich. Only Yoel Korobochka, his wife Hinka and their four children escaped the execution and found a haven in our house.” He now wanted to get his hands on the family to add them to the pile of dead bodies. Then he would be happy.

I begged him to spare their lives. Since he respected my father, he agreed and cancelled the death sentence he had passed on the Korobochka family. On my way home I saw armed peasants returning to Vitkovich. I found out that these were the killers the peasant woman had warned us about. The peasants from Bilovizh immediately came out and formed a defense wall around our house. They guarded us so that we would not be killed.

They asked us to move to Bilovizh since we would be better protected there. My father refused to go with them because he was afraid that he would be forced to eat non-kosher food. The Bilovizh police posted an officer at his house to guard him. He stayed at home from Yom Kippur to May 3.

When the Germans ordered the concentration of all the area Jews in Rokitno, my father was uprooted. The peasants harnessed the horses. My father took my mother and the Torah scroll of the village and went to Rokitno.

We suffered terrible hunger in the ghetto. The cold and the hunger distressed my father who was over eighty years old. My mother had great staying power and faced all the difficulties bravely. She collected potato peels that were even rejected by the cows. She salted them and fed them to my father. This abominable food caused my father to swell and he lost consciousness. A week before he was killed he regained consciousness and he spent day and night praying and reciting Psalms.

The Germans came to execute him. All those who were ill were exterminated in their homes. The house was full of people. These were the peasants from Bilovizh who came to say good-bye to my father. When the interpreter asked what they saw in this Jew, the peasants replied that Yakov was a good man. He never hurt anyone. They were begging for him to be spared. The only “special” treatment my father received was that he was not killed at home like all the other ill people. He was killed in Sarny.

Before he was killed, my father covered himself in his prayer shawl and prayed in a voice choked with sobs. While he was praying a bullet hit him. He died together with my mother.

Aharon of Toupik was blind in both eyes. His wife, Haya-Sarah, was crippled in both legs. They could not move from the ghetto. They were killed in the house together with their son, Moshe and their daughter, Nehama. Others who were killed were Naftali and Rachel Dubinski, their son Eliahu and daughters Fruma, Leah and Sarah; Hava Freger, her daughter Haya and son Yoel; 13 year-old Eliahu Chechik; (Mordechai and David, the sons of Aharon Chechik, fell on the front in 1944. David dreamed of reaching Germany and of making aliyah from there. He fell in battle on Polish soil.)

I escaped, under a shower of bullets, with my son Shimon, into the forest. There I was shocked by an event that I will never forget. In our household in Toupik we had a dog that had been with us for many years. When we were exiled from the village, the dog could not find a place for himself. He roamed around searching for us. We found him in the forest and he began to lick us with happiness. We had to send him away because his barking would have endangered our lives. My son Shimon began to cry when he saw the dog sadly making his way back to the village. The peasants told us that the dog stopped eating and drinking and lay in his corner making horrifying sounds.

This is how the village of Toupik was annihilated. Its Jews loved the land and always worked hard.

[Page 293]

Blizhov During The Holocaust Years

Aharon Blizhovsky (Ramat Gan)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

By the time the Nazis took over Polesia in the summer of 1941, most of the Jews had left the village and had moved to Rokitno and Sarny. A few old timers stayed in the village. All the young people had left the village. For almost a year the Nazis did not bother the Jews. In the summer of 1942, they took them to the village of Berezov. All the area Jews were concentrated there in a few houses. On the eve of Rosh Hashana 1942, the Jews were taken a few kilometers away from the village. They were shot. Some managed to escape into the forests.

During the German occupation, I lived in Rokitno. As we all know, those Jews of Rokitno who survived the market square were taken to Sarny. On the day of extermination in Sarny a few Jews managed to break through the barbed wire fence surrounding the killing field. They began to run in all directions. The Nazis and the Ukrainian guards shot at them. I was among the escapees. Out of town I met an unfamiliar peasant. I asked him the way to Tomoshgorod. I hoped to reach Blizhov from there. He not only showed me the way, but he also gave me bread and cucumbers. I turned east and I crossed one of the rivers on foot. On the road I met a refugee from Sarny. We walked together for four days until I reached Blizhov. I went to a farm early in the morning. I was shoeless and my feet were bleeding. The peasant began to cry when he saw me. He gave me a piece of bread and shoes made out of reeds. He said to me: “I can't bring you to my house. Go in peace!”

I reached the village and I went to see Vatzek, a Polish forest warden. He fed us and told us that members of my family and other Jews had made it to the forest. Within two weeks we were a group of 50-60 people, scattered in the area. We roamed the forest. The peasants asked the village mayor what to do about the Jews. He replied: “I did not ask you about the Jews. Don't tell me about them.” The peasants understood that he meant that the Jews should not be persecuted or handed over to the Germans. In Blizhov there were no Germans. It was only in January 1943 that a unit of soldiers settled in the village of Glinna. These Germans sometimes passed through Blizhov on their way to Rokitno.

Until the difficult winter came, we were scattered in the forest. We moved in groups of 3 or 4 people. At night we went to the village to beg for food. In daytime we hid in the forest. We dug for potatoes in the fields close to the forest. In the winter, as it became colder, we began to ask the peasants to let us stay in their barns, stables and wells.

I must say that these peasants treated us fairly well. In the area of Blizhov there were no attacks or denunciations of Jews. In other villages some peasants killed the Jews that strayed into their area.

Yosef Blizhovsky testified about the good relations between the peasants and the Jewish refugees. He tells of one peasant that worked his family's land and who brought him payment for his share of the potato crop and for the rental of his land. Another peasant took his mother's cow and gave him as much milk as he wanted. He even returned the cow when the Nazis left.

There were especially good relations between the Jews and those peasants who belonged to a religious sect called Shtundists. They saw the hand of G-d in the horrors that befell the Jews. They believed in the prophecy that only a remnant of the Jewish people – “one from a city and two from a family” – would stay alive on judgment day. I visited one of these peasants many times and I read aloud his sacred books.

There are three reasons for their good behavior.

  1. For several generations, the peasants knew most of the Jews of the Blizhov forests and they had good neighborly relations with them.
  2. The village was situated in a remote corner of Polesia, far from the center of the German authorities.
  3. The influence of the religious sects (Shtundists).

In the winter of 1943 small units of Russian partisans arrived in the Blizhov forests. They were mostly Russian prisoners of war who had escaped. Younger refugees joined the partisans. They received arms and took part in various activities such as the bombing of the railroad tracks near Rokitno. There were also reprisals against collaborators with the Germans.

In the village of Glinna a peasant denounced Shimon Gendelman of Rokitno to the police. Shimon had come to beg him for bread. He was killed by the police. A few days later, Asher Binder of Rokitno penetrated the village with a Russian partisan. They removed the peasant from his house. After they made certain that he was the one who had denounced Gendelman to the authorities, they killed him on his doorstep.

Those who did not join the partisans lived in the forest. We learned how to make liquor (samogon) and we exchanged it with the partisans for bread, meat, etc.

Sometimes the rumors came that the Germans were coming to search the village. We would immediately leave the village and go into the forest. On such a night, a cold winter night, one Jew froze to death near one of the houses. The peasant lent us a sled and we brought the body to the forest for burial.

At the beginning of 1944 we heard that the Red Army had liberated Rokitno and Sarny. We began to return to the towns after a year and a half of living in the forest.

[Page 295]

A Child's Memories Of The Destruction Of Rokitno

Haim Bar Or (Svetchnik) (Haifa)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The 22nd of July 1941 was a beautiful summer day. Since it was summer vacation, we were off from school. I was playing with other children in the Tarbut school yard. I felt strange when I saw the movement of the Soviet soldiers near the school. I felt something out of the ordinary was about to happen. Actually, that morning we were informed that the Germans had bombed Kiev and other cities.

This event was a “red alert” for the Jews of Rokitno. It was a warning of what was coming. However, they did not even think of what could happen. Save for a few, they did not believe that anything bad would reach us.

I remember the day the Soviets retreated. They burned offices, central buildings and bridges. The town was in flames and in the middle of the fire, the Ukrainians came from the villages to rob the well-stocked warehouses.

Tzvi Olshansky, who was serving as a soldier in the Red Army, came to our house and begged us: “Go to Russia! Escape from the hell that is coming upon us!” He said these words during the last days of the retreat of the Soviet army. In reply to his pleading, my mother said she would not leave her property and her belongings. She had worked too many years to acquire them and she did not wish to begin a life of wandering as a deprived refugee.

We stayed. However, not too many days passed and we saw what our imagination could not have conjured. The Germans entered the synagogue, dragged out a Jew who was praying and slaughtered him near the cemetery. The Jews deluded themselves, thinking that this one Jew was the scapegoat. The murderers would stop with him.

As time went by we heard all kinds of rumors about the formation of ghettos in various towns and about the murders of Jews for no reason. No one imagined that our turn would come. The winter of 1942 passed and summer came. Rumors were spreading that a ghetto was to be established for the Jews of Rokitno and its vicinity. It turned out that these were not merely rumors, but that the plan would soon come to fruition. The “Judenrat” members interpreted the establishment of the ghetto as a good thing, since inside the ghetto; Jews would be better protected from the Ukrainian hooligans.

The ghetto was filled to capacity. Families with many children were crammed into tiny rooms. It was horribly stifling and the hunger was unbearable. I cannot even describe what my eyes saw. I well remember a Jew who came to the ghetto with his family and they were housed in the synagogue. He was a handsome Jew, about 50 years old, full of energy. However, starvation destroyed him. He was constantly depressed. He became bloated from hunger and died.

The Germans and the SS did not sit with folded hands and they came up with actual plans for our destruction. At first, their satanic plots were modest and they were satisfied by counting the Jewish population. This was done with the help of the Jewish police and the “Judenrat”. The Germans were pleased with the counting. No one was missing. After several roundups we reached that bloody Wednesday in August - the last day in the lives of many of the Jews of Rokitno. It was a beautiful hot morning. All the Jews of Rokitno were assembled in the market square for a new roundup. After the names were carefully read and everyone was present, an order was given for new line-ups. The women and girls older than 10 were separated from the men (including all boys older than 10). So we stood for a quarter of an hour.

Suddenly, a loud horrifying scream was heard from the women's side. Our hearts were beating faster and the crowd which had been standing up to now began to run every which way. A barrage of shots was fired at the unfortunate souls. Shouting and crying erupted. The screams were deafening. As I was running I fell into a ditch near Gotlieb's house.

When I climbed out of the ditch I saw that the market square was strewn with dead bodies and the soil was red with blood. I heard the cries of the injured and the sobbing of the children. I began to run towards the forest through backyards. On the way, I met petrified Jews who did not know where they would find help.

Everyone was searching for family members. Mothers looked for their children and children wanted their parents. I found my 11 year-old sister and together we searched for my mother. On the way I saw groups of Jews who were desperate and crazed, afraid of what was to come.

Suddenly a group of Jews came towards us and among them was my mother alone. My little brother, older sister and grandmother were not with her. After the war I found out that my sister and grandmother died in Sarny and my brother was killed in the market square.

We broke up into small groups. Our group included my family and the Schwartz family. My mother went to a neighboring village to obtain food for us so that we should not die of starvation. However, since she was late in returning, we went with the Schwartz family to look for her. On the way we met a group of 50 people - children alone, women and elderly people. Among them I found my mother. They were thinking of going back to Rokitno because they believed that no one would bother them now. I was against this and I maintained that a return to Rokitno would bring certain death. Indeed, those who did go back - their bitter end is known to all of us. My family joined the family of Yosef Kaplan who knew the area well and we felt safer and stronger with him.

In Okopi we found Gitel Burko and her son, Rachel Wasserman, her two daughters and her sister. A terrible calamity happened to me at that time. My mother fell ill and died after a few days. We buried her not far from where we were staying. My sister deeply mourned my mother and after two weeks of suffering and longing, she too died. She was only 11 years old. I buried her next to my mother. I was left all alone.

On the way I met Niussa Kokel. She was terribly depressed after everything that had happened to her. She could not accept her lot having lost everyone dear to her. When we passed the graves of my mother and sister, she would burst out in bitter tears and would say: “At least you have a grave. You have a place to shed tears. I don't have it”. (After liberation she died in Lvov).

One day Theodore Linn and Avraham Eisenberg came with rumors about partisans who were nearby and their group wanted to join them. I, Shmuel Levin and his brother Shike, decided to try our luck with the partisans, but we were not successful.

The winter of 1943 ended. The behavior of the Germans towards the Poles worsened. As a result, the Germans were faced with a belligerent attitude from the Polish population. In this way we, the residents of the forests, became allies of the Poles. After several robbery and murder raids by the Ukrainians, the Poles escaped into the forests. We received them with open arms because when we were with them our economic and safety conditions improved. The word “liberation” was on our minds. Rumors of the advancement of the Red Army encouraged us. In January 1944, the Red Army came to our area. I immediately joined a convoy and returned “home” - to Rokitno. Instead of our house I found a pile of rubble. Our homes had been totally obliterated from the faces of the earth.

[Page 298]

The Yearly Memorial (Poem)

Haim Shteinman (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Ala and Larry Gamulka

Many memorial candles are lit
They spread sparks and flames
They remind us of many memories-
The love of mother and father.

Their charming eyes shine together
For us through the years
The glances of our parents
Glow in our memory.

The candles are lit
They spread sparks and flames
With memories connected
To our mothers and fathers.

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