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The road of suffering {Cont.}

[Page 317]

Miracles Which Happened
And Miracles Which Did Not Happen

Rachel Wasserman (Reznik) (Kiryat Bialik)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The Germans came to Rokitno to a “well-prepared” location. The Ukrainians and the Poles prepared lists of Jews suspected of being Communists. Alter Pik was also on the list. The Germans took him outside, stood him near a tree and killed him in front of his wife and other bewildered Jews.

It was a punishment meant to set an example. At the beginning the Germans were not yet interested in extermination. They needed the Jews as a work force.

Conditions were so cruel that many were swollen with hunger and were incapable of working. These were the last days before judgment day.

The work was accompanied by abuse. The women were ordered to bring water. They were harnessed like horses to the carts and, with their last strength; they pulled the heavy water barrel. A German sat on the barrel holding a whip, which he flung mercilessly to make the women hurry. Naturally, many women collapsed and could not get up.

At first, my husband, Moshe Wasserman, worked hauling rafters. However, when the Germans discovered that he was a watchmaker by trade, they freed him from this physical labor. He was allowed to work in the ghetto in his trade. One night I heard loud knocks on our door. I looked through the slits and I saw that Germans and Ukrainians were the ones knocking. Since I had no choice, I opened the door, but I sent my husband and my son, Yakov, to the attic. I was certain that they had come to get them.

I opened the door holding my two-year old daughter, Taibele, in my arms. The killers hit me and demanded watches. I gave them all the watches I had. This did not satisfy them. They took my child out of my arms and flung her on the couch with such force that it was a miracle that she remained alive. They aimed their fists at my nose causing it to bleed profusely. I lost consciousness and stayed that way for five days.

In the ghetto I lived in the house of Hannah Hessel Levin, the grandmother of Haim Shteinman. There was another woman there who was critically ill. She was terribly swollen from hunger. She could only relieve herself with the help of a doctor. The killers would not allow her to see the doctor and she would writhe in pain day and night. There are not enough words to describe her suffering. She was “redeemed” on that fateful Wednesday morning when the Jews were gathered for the third roll call. Death came after that roll call. The sick were exterminated in their beds. This is how the poor woman was also exterminated.

Early Wednesday morning, my good friend Manke, who lived in the Baratz house, came to see me. She worked for me as a washerwoman for many years. I tried to help her as much as I could. When I was in the ghetto I never ran into her. She suddenly appeared in the middle of the night. Without any preliminaries she told me the end was near for all the Jews of Rokitno. She hurried to come and tell me so I would seek refuge under the protection of darkness. She left immediately after telling me the news. I reported this to the Judenrat, but they did not believe it. They said it was idle talk. They just would not believe that a slaughter was coming.

That night we heard the unusual sounds of wagons moving. There was great movement in town. Trumpets and crowds were heard. We saw the town was being surrounded on all sides. We could not sleep and we went from house to house, trembling with fear. The approaching sound of death was heard throughout the ghetto.

What we feared came indeed. It was not an ordinary third roll call. It was a sendoff to the death ditches of Sarny. The fact that the sick were shot in their beds forecast the terrible end. When we came to the market square shots were heard and many fell immediately. My older daughter cried to me: “Let us run, mother!” We began to run towards the forest with Taibele in my arms. I reached Avraham Gotlieb's house. The ditch near his house was full of bodies. I fell in and bodies fell on top of me. My older daughter stood at the edge and screamed: “Mother, you are alive. Let us run away!” With my last strength I managed to get out from under the pile of bodies. I was unable to pull out Taibele. I held her little hand while her body was squeezed by the dead bodies. My older daughter helped me to take her out. She was unconscious. I shook her and she began to cry. I then knew she was alive.

I ran with my two girls continuously looking back. I was hoping to see other family members. I suddenly heard a voice calling me. It was my sister Dutzia. I wanted to run with Mrs. Shachnovski to the tar factory. But my sister stopped me saying it was not a hiding place, but a burial place. The forest was full of Jews who had escaped from the killing field. Among them were many who were injured and were writhing in pain. Soon the Ukrainian police came to the forest to bring back the Jews to Rokitno. They were going to put them on the waiting train cars.

The Jews began to run and the Ukrainians chased them. I used the opportunity and I ran into a pigpen with my daughters. Freidl Linn and Hannah Kasher came with me. The pigs were grazing in the field and the house was locked. We found out that the peasant had gone with his wife to Rokitno to steal Jewish belongings. Indeed, soon he returned with his wagon loaded with goods. We heard him tell his wife: “Unload the wagon quickly so we can go back for more.”
When he returned the second time it was dusk. We escaped to the forest in the darkness. I found my relative Nachman Levy. I said to him: “Let's run away!” He asked me to wait a few minutes because he had to go into one of the nearby houses. He went in, but he never came out. He died inside. We roamed all day and in the evening we entered a house in the forest. We saw a peasant roasting potatoes. He received us warmly, gave us hot potatoes and told us to go to the attic where we would find other Jews. There we found Ziske Kissel and his family from Karpilovka and Israel Eizenstein (Zvi Barzilay's father).

The next day the peasant informed Ziske that he could no longer hide us. We had to find a new hiding place. I wanted to join him and to go to Karpilovka, but he refused. This refusal saved my life. Ziske advised me to hide in the garden of the forest warden. This was friendly advice, because the warden knew my parents. He gave us food and a place to sleep. In the evening, the warden told us he was going to Karpilovka to see what was going on there. He soon returned, ashen-faced, and told us: “Run away from here. The village is full of Germans. They killed Ziske Kissel and his family and another forty Jews from Rokitno.”

The peasant gave us some food for the road and advised us to cross the marshes. Once we reached dry land we found a Jew roasting potatoes. We saw Haim Trossman (Yechiel's father) standing alone in the field roasting potatoes. He told us that he was not afraid because he trusted G-d in heaven. Whatever would happen, he was calm. He was happy to see us. We stayed near his fire all night. The next day we decided to go to the village of Netrebe. Haim knew all the roads, but for safety reasons we went in a roundabout way. We walked a whole day. We reached the village at night. It was pitch black all around us, but there was a light shining in one of the houses. We were frozen, hungry, barefoot and half-naked. Dogs began to bark and would not let us approach the house. The peasant came out and warned us to run away. There were policemen in the adjacent house. We took a chance and went inside to rest. His wife saw our misery and brought us food. The man took us outside and said: “Do you see the fire in the distance? My children are watching my horses graze there. Go and sleep there.” We went there. The saying goes: “Like father, like son”. The man was kind and his sons were also good-hearted.
When the boys saw us they got up and offered us their mat so we would not lie on the cold ground. We lay down to rest near the fire. Our feet were swollen from the cold and we needed to rest them.

The next day we looked around and saw no one. Trossman was afraid that in this empty area we could be killed and no one would know. He asked the peasant for his opinion. The peasant advised us to go to the village of Okopi. Its residents did not hurt Jews. When I mention this village, I must praise it highly. Just as we must condemn our killers and slaughterers, we must also commemorate our saviors. This village was merciful to all the Jews. The village priest said in his sermons that his followers must help the poor refugees (he did not specifically say Jews), treat them kindly, not hurt them, give them food and drink, and offer them a place to sleep.

We reached Okopi and we stopped at the crossroads. A peasant called Cesar Zalevski came out and said to us: “Hear me, my brothers. I know about your terrible situation. Do not despair. Your redemption will come in this village. The residents swore in the name of the redeemer that their village will not spill Jewish blood. The war will not go on forever. It will end and you will remain alive. Come with me.” He took us deep into the forest and brought us to a pit. He told us to go inside. He camouflaged us with branches and told us to stay here until daybreak. At sunrise he brought us a pot of milk and some bread.

(I now must tell about the bitter end of Haim Trossman. At that time a group of approximately twenty people was formed. They lived together in the forest for two months. They were denounced by the Ukrainians and the Germans attacked them. The younger people managed to escape, but Haim was old. He was caught and brought back to Rokitno. He was killed in exchange for two kilos of salt.)

A few days later some partisans came. My sister Dutzia decided to join them. She thought she would help me, too, in this way. They did not want to take me because of the children. This decision brought about Dutzia's death. These were Soviet parachutists from Moscow who did not know the roads well. They were ambushed by the Germans and killed. Dutzia was killed in the exchange of fire.

We could not stay long under Cesar Zalevski's protection. The Bulbovtzis in the area knew well that the residents of Okopi welcomed the Jews. They waited for the opportunity to attack them. After the defeat of the soviet parachutists they burst into the village and set it on fire. Cesar harnessed his wagon and placed his family and me with my two daughters on it. He tried to find a way to escape the revenging Bulbovtzis. We were surrounded by the fire. The Bulbovtzis came to the wagon and killed his wife and family. He managed to escape. By a miracle, I got out of the wagon. The killers saw other villagers and left me alone. They chased the others and killed about 80 of them.

I ran with my daughters and I reached a small bridge over a ditch. It was winter. Barefoot and half-naked we went into ice-cold water. We were covered up to our necks. I held Taibele in my arms because otherwise the water would have covered her completely. At night, it was even colder. The water froze and a layer of ice surrounded us.

We were saved by a miracle. What was that miracle? In the village of Netrebe, Avraham Grinshpan and his family and Yosef Kaplan and his family were hiding in a lean-to. When they heard that 80 people were killed in Okopi, they were certain that my daughters and I were among the dead. Grinshpan said to Kaplan: “Let us bring Rachel and her daughters to a proper Jewish burial.” They took shovels and were on their way. When they saw three heads peeking out of the ice they were sure we had frozen to death. I began to shout: “Come here! I am alive!” They broke the ice with their shovels and pulled us out of the water. They carried the girls on their shoulders because they were frozen. Grinshpan brought us to his lean-to which had a stove. The ice melted off my daughters and they began to show signs of life. Grinshpan obtained various creams from the peasants, which he rubbed on our wounds. Slowly our limbs revived.

This was the end of our suffering. The war was coming to its end. The area was conquered by the Soviet army and we returned to Rokitno. To my great surprise, I found there my father, Aharon Reznik. What miracle allowed him to be saved? It was beyond understanding. He could not fathom how he had escaped with my brother from the market square and which angels had guarded him in the forests. However, sadly, he told me of my brother Yeshayahu's death.

My brother was forced to do hard labor in the ghetto and he fell seriously ill. As long as we were in the ghetto we did everything to look after him. His condition improved. However, the conditions in the Blizhov forest were too difficult and he fell ill again. His condition worsened. One cold winter day he expired. Father buried him with his own hands and said kaddish. Inside my brother's hat he found a crumpled piece of paper. My father took a small branch, put into the fire and used the ashes to write my brother's name and the date of his death. He took a flask, broke it's opening and put the note inside. He placed the flask on the grave as if it were a gravestone. It was to be a marker so that on the day of liberation his grave would be found and he would be given a proper Jewish burial. However, snow and storms erased everything. In spite of the hard work my father put in, he could not find the grave again.

[Page 321]

The Great Rescue

Baruch Goldman (Attorney) (Ramat Gan)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The Germans were so devious that we did not have an inkling that they were planning to annihilate us. Truthfully, there was no indication that the end was near.

Firstly, we did not know what was happening in other places because we were isolated from the outside world. Secondly, no cruel deeds had been perpetrated on the Jews of Rokitno. We had no indication that the end was coming. Therefore, when the order was given to gather in the market square for the third roll call, there was no panic. It was felt that if the two previous roll calls had ended with people returning home, then this one, too, would end well. There was a rumor that the purpose of the roll call was to determine that all were still in town and that no one had escaped to join the partisans.

This time the Germans and their Ukrainian helpers had decided to annihilate the Rokitno community. The shots in the air and at the people were proof enough. It is impossible to describe the bedlam that followed. Everyone went in his own direction. Mothers abandoned their children. Even if they escaped together, they became separated while running. I stood near my father (I was 13 years old then) and I held his hand. We began to run towards the sawmill. We were constantly chased and shot at. I suddenly could not see my father and I did not know what had happened to him. I ran alone and met other youngsters my age that had also become separated from their families. They were looking for shelter in the forest. On the way we met Jews returning to town. They were saying that they wished to die with their families since there was no purpose to their lives once their dear ones were torn away from them.

We were a group of 4 or 5 children. After we rested in the forest we decided to return to town to see if any Jews remained. We met some peasants and they told us that the Jews were being taken to Sarny by train. Anyone who returned was shot in the synagogue. On the way we saw the earth soaked in blood and we found pictures and papers belonging to Jews. We understood that the end had come to the Jews of our town. In order for our fate to be different from theirs we decided to search for shelter in one of the villages nearby. I remained with one young lad. The others left us. In a village near Rokitno, there was a peasant called Feodor Tzaruk who was friendly with my father. I decided to go to him hoping to meet my father. Indeed, when I came there, he told me my father was hiding there.

My father told me that he hid in the military cemetery. There was a thick tree with all its leaves intact. He climbed it and hid in it from morning till nine in the evening.
Since his hiding place was close to town, he saw how the Jews were taken to slaughter in the synagogue. Some terrible sights were etched in his mind. There was a Jew in our town called Michael Shuster. He worked in the sawmill that the Germans built near the train station. He was an expert in the field. He had good relations with his superior. Shuster escaped with all the others, but his superior chased him and found him hiding in a potato field.

“Get out, dirty Jew!” shouted the superior and aimed his gun. Shuster fell on his knees and begged the superior: “Let me live and I will serve you to the end of my days”. “Forward!” yelled the killer. Shuster, pale, got up. He was taken to the synagogue and shot there.

A young woman hid about 100 meters from my father. A German chased her and yelled at her to stop. She ran like a mad woman. She fell, got up again and continued to run. The German shot her in the arm. When she saw the blood streaming from her body she was alarmed and stopped running. This is how the poor woman was taken to slaughter in the synagogue.

After we met at Tzaruk's, my father and I walked together. We learned that it was safer to stay in small groups and not to remain permanently in one place. We had to be on the move. During our wandering we met Aharon Lifshitz and the hat maker Yakov Landau (son-in-law of the hat maker Michael Steinberg). With them were Batya Grinshpan and Rachel Hammer who did sewing and embroidery for one of the peasants.

Aharon and my father Yakov are credited with a big rescue effort. We were in the marshland between the villages of Chabel and Lenchin when two Baptists, acquaintances of my father, passed by. One of them, Afanas, told us he was returning from a large gathering of Banderovtzis in the village of Tinna. It had been decided there that night they would go to Berdocha, an agricultural farm near Tinna, to kill 21 Polish families. The following night they would go to kill the Jews hiding in the forests in the area. The Banderovtzis even knew the names of those Jews.

When my father and Aharon Lifshitz heard about the fate awaiting these Jews, they decided not to waste a minute and to save them immediately. They hurried to the site and told them they must escape or else they would not remain alive. At first, they refused to leave. Firstly, they did not believe the situation was so drastic and secondly, they did not want to abandon their belongings. However, the pleas of Lifshitz and my father finally opened their eyes and they joined us. We went together to the village of Bober where Medvedev's regiment was camped.

On the way my father and Lifshitz wanted to save two young women hidden by a peasant, but they were too late. The Banderovtzis had, in the meantime, killed Batya Grinshpan. Rachel Hammer managed to run out of the house. She hid in a barrel in the yard and was spared.

Our acquaintances, area peasants, reported that the Banderovtzis did come at night to kill all the Jews. When they did not find them, they became angry and burned all the shelters where they had hidden.

Most of those saved made aliyah and reside among us to this day.

[Page 323]

I Was A Mother Of Unfortunate Children

Esther Naiberg - (Bnei Brak)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The story of the children who were separated from their parents during the panic and the shooting in the market square is a horrifying tale. They ran petrified crying for their mothers. As they ran they held on to any adult and begged to be taken along. When I ran from the market square I saw a group of small children who were sobbing. I gathered them as any mother would and we ran together to the forest. (My younger son Baruch ran alone and we met later). I sat down with them on the ground, gathered blackberries and fed them. The children clung to me and begged not to be abandoned.

I stayed with them for four days and them I gave them over to Jews who were roaming the forest. The only two who remained with me were Sima Katz, the daughter of Moshe-Leib, and her two daughters. I put one on my shoulders and we wandered together. The child was almost out of strength. On the way we met Yitzhak Forman with his young son, Yehudah Schiff and his son Yeshayahu and Avraham Wax from Sahov.

I had to part from them because I went to search for my children Baruch and Sonia and her two daughters Raya and Shoshana. I reached the village of Borovey. On the way I met a peasant who told me that Jews were hiding in the forest. Two children came towards me. One was Yitzhak Gendelman's son. They told me they saw my son-in-law Binyamin Shtedler (He later died fighting with the partisans) and my son Baruch. I found them and we stayed in Borovey for 14 days.

We had to run away because the peasants plotted to kill us. We reached the village of Berezov where we had a flourmill. It was the night of “Remember the Covenant”. We wandered for 3 days in the forest and we reached Berezov on the eve of Yom Kippur. One peasant hid us until after Yom Kippur. He was afraid and urged us to continue on our way. We went into the forest where we saw a large fire. Two young boys were nearby. One was Monik (Michulchik's son) and the other was Syoma (the son of Avraham the Bookbinder). They told me that they had been in a group of 20 Jews, but they had all left them. The children were afraid that I, too, would leave them. I told them not to fear, that I would look after them as if I was their mother. I was a devoted mother to them during our hard times until we were liberated.

In the forest, my son and I became ill with typhus. I was so concerned about my child that I ignored the fact that I, too, was sick and that I felt dizzy. I took my son in my arms and ran to a peasant called Michael Kohonivich in the Blizhov hamlet. I went to him and asked him to give my child shelter because he was very sick. The peasant said: “You are very sick also”. He laid us on the ground and we stayed there burning with fever for 14 days without food or water. The fever broke by itself. When we opened our eyes the peasant fed us honey from his own beehive. We recuperated. As a result of the illness and the lack of food we lost our hair, but it grew back later.

My son Baruch worked as a shepherd for one of the peasants. He excelled in his duties. I stayed with him until liberation. My eleven-year old son Sossik, my daughter and her two daughters Raya and Shoshana were killed escaping from the market square.

[Page 325]

Preserving The Jewish Image
In The Ghetto And In The Forest

By Issachar Trossman (Ramat Gan)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

When the Jews were enclosed in the ghetto we made a trade - we exchanged our houses - the large and the small - with a small, two-family house. It stood at the edge of the ghetto and belonged to a “Folksdeutch” (ethnic German). He was a veteran resident of Rokitno. Greber lived in that house with grandfather Haim and grandmother Tema.

At first the Germans did not make children of 13 work. As a result, we were idle. Some parents, who were afraid that their children would forget the Scriptures, secretly organized a Hebrew school. The secretary of the Tarbut School, Mr. Weinblatt, was the teacher. We studied all subjects usually taught in senior elementary school.

However, we did not spend a long time on our studies. The ghetto was made smaller and our parents, fearing the authorities, interrupted the studies. The Germans began to force even children my age to do hard labor. I worked in the peat fields and I had to dig for 400 peat bricks. The person in charge was a mean Pole who in peacetime was a telephone repairman. We worked from 7 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon in miserable conditions, oppressed and mistreated.

As luck would have it, I managed to escape into the forest with my family. (My grandfather was murdered in the village of Decht) In the forest, we met my aunt Rivka Golovey (my mother's sister) and her son Moshe. From her we learned that her husband Sender died in the forest. We also met Ethel from Glinna with her three children and “Rachel the Blind One”. They joined us and we hid together in a kurin (underground dugout). One time, the Germans were hunting for Jews in the forest and we had to run away into marshland. Above it, for a distance of several hundred meters, there was a very narrow crossing. It was an acrobatic feat to cross this span and to not fall off. Many of us fell and got thoroughly wet. It was a miracle that “Rachel the Blind One” went through without falling. It was said that an angel was protecting her from above. Believers saw it as a sign that we remained alive because of her.

The partisan movement spread in our area and we joined a unit called Plasnosov. Its base was in the houses outside the village of Vizhitz. Among these partisans was the famous hero, Zvi Olshansky from Staro-Cielo. He had escaped from a German prison and he organized the unit. He was a proud Jew and because of him we were able to keep our Jewish image, even in caveman conditions.

On the Holy Days, we were freed from every day work in order to be close to our creator and to remember our dead. Tens and hundreds of Jewish partisans from the area came to Blizhov and spent Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in fasting and in prayer. A great sorrow engulfed everyone. We also thought about our broken and ruined world.

In order not to assimilate and to keep our Jewish spirit, we did not eat chametz on Pesach. We prepared ourselves spiritually. We even baked matzo cakes from dark flour. Although they were hard as stone and became gravel in our mouths, they instilled a holiday feeling in us. It was as if we were sitting at a seder as in previous years. We even read from the Haggadah. Each one of us read from memory. These miserable, dried flat breads with shriveled potatoes became, in our eyes, a symbol for our belief in the Jewish nation. They also told us that we will be free again in the near future.

However, we were not always in an uplifted mood. We had days of sorrow and of crying. Every time we heard that a Jew from Rokitno fell in battle or was caught by the Germans was like a sword thrust at us. With great sadness we heard the news that Yosef Olshansky and Moshe Barman had fallen. They died during an attack on a German arms train. Immediately after that we also heard that the partisan, Shepsel Shteindel had died. He was a young man in the Kovpek unit. He had gone through hell, had come back from the Carpathian Mountains and had arrived in the village of Vitkovich. He entered one of the houses in the village and took a spool of thread. The locals libeled him saying he was going into homes and threatening the residents with a gun. He was killed because of this lie in front of the camp of partisans.

This is how Haim Turok died as well. Even Yakov Gitelman was put to death by the partisans for a lie. He was accused of forcing the villagers, with a gun, to give him clothes and food.

Our hearts were gladdened when we heard of heroic deeds performed by the youth of Rokitno. We heard a tale of Asher Binder's heroism. In the vicinity of Blizhov there was a group of partisans, the most famous among them were Asher Binder, Nachman Blizhovsky and Baruch Perlovich. The housekeeper of the staff of the partisans, Rivka Golovey, was well known for her wonderful deeds.

Every piece of information about a Jewish partisan from Rokitno filled our hearts with pride. We did not sit empty-handed and we contributed to the struggle. My father was very active in the procurement of food and clothing for the Jews in the forest. It was not enough for him. He endangered his life and visited nearby villages in order to get news about the locals who directly or indirectly participated in the killing of Jews. He was killed on one of these visits.

[Page 327]

In The Shadow Of The Gallows

Shmuel Levinson (Levin) (Ramat Gan)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

When the Germans conscripted the Jews of Rokitno to do forced labor, I was ordered to work in “Tod-organizatzion”. This was a group of German officers and soldiers whose task was to supervise the construction of bridges and railroad tracks. Three hundred soldiers occupied the Palace and the officers lived in the New Town across from the market. I was a servant to 5 officers and my job was to shine their shoes, to bring firewood and to clean their guns. I was given a pass to come and go. Every morning, before daybreak, I would run to a gentile I knew in the village of Rokitno and I would take from him bread, milk, at times flour, for my starving family.

Once the Polish cook fell ill and I was sent to bring food to the officers from the army kitchen. The cook identified my nationality by my yellow star. Even though he knew very well why and by whom I was sent, he beat me badly and ordered me to chop wood with other Jews. At noon he let go of me and sent me back with food.

One day officer Lemel went out on the porch and ordered me to bring a brush and shoe polish and to polish his boots. While I was doing so he announced with great joy: “If the Jews will be killed, come here. We will not kill you”. From his promise I learned that the Germans were actually planning to kill the Jews. I reported this to the “Judenrat”, but they did not take me seriously because they could not imagine that all the Jews would be killed. The bubble in which the members of the “Judenrat” lived was soon burst and the final and third roundup soon came. I asked the officer if I, too, had to present myself and he replied with a sarcastic smile: “Yes!” I obeyed the command and I stood next to my brothers Yeshayahu (Shike) and Moshe and my parents.

As the commotion started when shots were heard, I remembered the promise made by the officer and I ran to the building where I was working. The door was locked. I tried to enter thorough an open window, but the cook stopped me. I forced the window open and I jumped inside with Shike, my little brother. I passed through several rooms and did not see a soul. I ran to the hallway and I reached the dining room. A machine gun was standing on the piano in the room and the Germans were shooting at the escaping Jews. With great fear I ran to the cellar and a few minutes later I heard knocking on the door. I was afraid to open it since I did not know who was knocking. To my great horror, I found out later that it was my father. I jumped with my brother over the fence and we ran towards the railroad tracks. We saw our neighbor, a heavy woman, running. She was shot and she fell. The whole road was covered in blood. I heard yelling coming from the railway cars. I saw how poor souls were forced into the cars, but we continued to run under a barrage of bullets, which were aimed at those who were escaping from the town. My brother was hurt by a metal post and asked me to leave him there because he could not walk. I dragged him and we escaped the bullets and entered the forest. In the forest we were joined by Shepsel Shteindel and Meir Krupnik. We were four boys and we did not know which way to go. We decided to go towards a nearby village. There we met Asher Binder, Lipa Shpilman, Lola Shachnovski and others. For safety reasons we had to divide ourselves into small groups. Therefore, we left them and in our wanderings arrived in the village of Glinna. Shteindel and Krupnik remained in the forest and my brother and I went to a farmer to ask him for food. He received us nicely and told his wife to prepare a meal. He then sneaked out of the house. We became suspicious and we ran away.

We lived in misery and we began to think of going back to Rokitno. We were certain that the killing was a one-time event and those returning to the town would not be hurt. Besides, we were hopeful that someone in our family was still alive. We were 4 kilometers from Rokitno. On the way, we met gentiles carrying stolen Jewish property. They warned us not to endanger ourselves by going back because the police was lying in wait for returning Jews.

In the forests we walked for three days and three nights until we reached the cemetery and we hid there. In the dark we saw some silhouettes. These were Jews, but we were afraid of them and they were afraid of us.

On the following day we continued on our way and we met a farmer plowing his fields. He recognized us to be Jews by our clothing and suggested to us to go over to the former Soviet area. There we would have a chance to join the partisans. We took his advice, but he warned us not to go to Karpilovka because its residents hated Jews. We went around the village and arrived in Netrebe. We stayed there 3-4 days and from there we went to Midan. We wandered aimlessly. We returned to Netrebe and from there to Okopi. Early that evening we saw a bonfire and we approached it. There we found Rachel Wasserman, her sister Dutzia and her son, Dvosil the blacksmith's daughter with her son and daughter, Shmuel Bagel, Avraham Eisenberg and Linn. In the evening we heard rustling noises and suddenly three armed men appeared and presented themselves as partisans. They gave us food and left. The next evening they returned and informed us that they could only take a young woman with them. They took Dutzia and left. We discovered later that they were not partisans, but criminals and hooligans. To this day we do not know what happened to Dutzia.

Death took its toll. We held two funerals. We buried Dvosil and her daughter. Dvosil had leaned on me all night long and in the morning when I tried to wake her, she was frozen to death. Her daughter died right after her. At night we wrapped her in a blanket and we buried her next to her mother.

We were worried about getting caught and we went deeper into the forest. There we built a kurin in the ground and we camouflaged it. We dug a well and at night we went to look for food. In Okopi there was a teacher who helped us as much as she could. She was killed for her generosity. She traveled to Rokitno to bring us news and on the way she was killed.

Eventually we were not alone in the forest. The “Mazuris”, Ukrainians converted to Catholicism who had also escaped from the Banderovtzis, joined us with their wives, children and cows. We felt safer among them. They employed us as sheepherders.
Among the Mazuris there were some partisans and we went with them on revenge raids. One day the partisans told us that the Soviet Army had liberated Rokitno and we could go back.

We returned in torn clothing. The first thing I took care of was clothing. I went to one of the collaborators, Yanek Byalouse, and forced him to hand over clothes for my brother and me.

A Jewish major who was with the Soviet Army in Rokitno took my brother with him as a messenger boy and dressed him in army clothes. He sent him to Moscow to the Sovorov Cadet School.

I reached Berlin as a soldier in the Soviet Army. At the end of the war, I was liberated as a Polish citizen and I came to Israel in 1948 as part of Aliyah Bet.

[Page 329]

The Struggle For Life

Aharon Lifshitz (Givatayim)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

On the 13 th day of Elul (26.8.1942), judgment day for the Rokitno community, we gathered at the market square by families. We did not know what was waiting for us. Our hearts predicted bad events, but we never imagined the extent of the annihilation. My father consoled me by saying all will be well because it was the 13 th of Elul. Thirteen is a lucky number. However, as we were encouraging each other, the order was given by the chief of police, Sokolovsky, that all men and boys older than 10 should line up in rows, 5 abreast. Women and girls would line up separately. My eight-year old son, Gershon, stood next to me. My father said to me: “Give me little Gershon and I will pass him on to mother. Maybe we will be taken to a work camp. Why should the child suffer because of us?” As he left the line we heard screams and shots. I threw myself on the ground and I searched for my family. I lost sight of them in the great panic.

I heard a warning: “Don't stand! Run!” I ran bent low and I reached Avraham Gotlieb's house. I saw many people escaping and I joined them. I entered the forest 10 kilometers from Rokitno. There I met the three Golubovitz brothers, Toddy Linn, Bronia Kogan, Batya Grinshpan, a Polish refugee called Farber, and Herschel Gendelman's young son from the village of Rokitno.

In the evening we reached the village of Borovey, but we did not find one living soul there. We discovered that all the villagers had gone to Rokitno to steal Jewish property. We continued on our way looking for the partisans. We heard rumors that they roamed the Soviet side. Petya Golubovitz knew the paths through the forests and he led us to the Russian-Polish border. In the evening we reached the village of Voniatzy on the Soviet side. We were afraid to enter because we were told that there was a German retribution action there only recently. Residents had been punished for allowing the partisans to enter.

We changed direction and waded through marshes and ponds. We climbed trees and with great difficulty we reached the villages of Budki-Borovski. There we met many Jews from Rokitno. One of the Righteous Gentiles, Yuzik Zalevski, lived there. His home became a meeting place for many of the Jews from Rokitno. In his yard I met Shimon Gendelman, Herschel Shteinman, Motl Shapiro and the Eisenberg brothers. I found out from them that my brother-in-law Misha and my brother Leibl were in Stariky near my tar factory. They thought that if I survived I would hide in the tar factory. Although I yearned for them, I had to wait because Ukrainian policemen were circulating in the area. They shot anyone they met on the way.

I organized a group, which consisted of Yakov Krantzberg, Batya Grinshpan and the Eisenberg brothers. We decided to return to Stariky. We left on a dark and rainy night and we walked holding hands because there was no visible path. At daybreak we saw that we were near the village of Ilova. We went into the forest and sat down to rest. Suddenly, we heard rustling and a voice said: “Don't be afraid. We are Jews!” Indeed, we saw Shlomo Grinshpan and Yonah Katz. Shlomo told us that he sent a messenger to Dr. Anishtchuk to find out what was going on in Rokitno. Anishtchuk sent back a newspaper in which it was written that the Fuhrer had decreed that all Jews be wiped off the face of the earth.

The Eisenberg brothers went towards Karpilovka. Yakov Krantzberg, Batya Grinshpan, and I walked towards Stariky. I went to see an acquaintance by the name of Yasku. He offered to hide me only in his house. He said that if I was spared from death I would now remain alive. He would help as much as he could. He told me that all the Jews of Stariky were saved and were hiding nearby. He was hiding another Jew, but he would not tell me his name. I went to sleep in a storehouse full of fodder. I was exhausted and I fell asleep immediately. When I opened my eyes I saw in front of me David Shachnovski, my partner in the tar factory. He heard that his son Lulik and his son-in-law Mulik Berkman had escaped and were hiding in the tar factory near Rokitno. I told him that my brother and my brother-in-law were seen in our tar factory and I wanted to go there. He advised me not to budge because there was great danger on the roads.

Shachnovski was hiding in a haystack and had no fresh air. I asked him to come to the forest because the place seemed dangerous and the peasant was not trustworthy. He refused and wanted to convince me not to leave.

I did not listen to him and I was on my way. One of my workers, Marcel, lived in the area and I was certain he would welcome me. I approached his house. When the dog began barking some children came to the window and shouted: “Run away, Jew. The Germans will catch you!” I ran into the forest. There was a great downpour and I stopped to pray “Shmone Esre”. My tears mingled with the raindrops. My chances for remaining alive were minimal. I thought of returning to Rokitno to die there.

In this hopeless despair, I saw Marcel's wife coming out of the yard. I went to her and asked about her husband. She did not recognize me. When she heard who I was, she burst out crying. She told me that there were Jews near a bonfire not far from there. Indeed I met Yakov Landau, Moshe the shoemaker, Dvora Greenberg, Hava Modrik and Batya Grinshpan. They told me they had been there for several days without any food or water. I gave them a few potatoes to satisfy their hunger. A little while later, I heard a voice in Polish saying: “Aharon, come here!” I turned my head and I saw Marcel. He fell on me, burst out crying and kissed me. He told me he was afraid to come closer to the bonfire because it was too close to the road. He brought me half a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk. He advised us to transfer the fire deeper into the forest because we were in mortal danger so close to the road.

On the next day I went to look for my brother Leibl and my brother-in-law Misha. I came to a peasant called Sokol who was hiding some Jews. I did not find them. I found out that my sister Sarah's children were looking for me. A Polish peasant wanted to hide Rivka, my niece, in his house, but she did not want to part from her brother Chen (named after Haim Nachman Bialik). They went together to the village of Osnitzek and were killed there by the Ukrainians.

It was the eve of Yom Kippur. Marcel brought us hot food. We told him not to bring us any food on the following day because we fast on Yom Kippur. At the end of the fast he brought us food and told us that, to his great sorrow, he could not feed the whole group, not even potatoes. He could only feed me. I could not accept his offer. I told him the fate of my friends is my fate. He advised us to go to the other side of the river Lave where the peasants were wealthier. The place was suitable for shelter because it was heavily wooded. We crossed the river. Yakov Landau and I went to scout the area. We entered one of the houses. The peasant called Adam Garvovsky treated us well. He stood guard outside so we would not be harmed. The Jews of Stariky used to come to him to bake bread and to cook. The peasant befriended me, but he only allowed me into his house at dusk. At night I had to go back to the forest and I was petrified. Every sound made me think the end had come.

Adam Garvovsky told me there were many women and children in the forest and he advised me to go there to look for my family. Indeed, I found David Schwartz's wife and some other women and young children. They told me that David Schwartz and Shvindelman from Snovidovich had gone to the forest to find moss (to be used instead of matches). I also met Menashe Zandweis who was looking very pale. I went over to greet him, but he did not recognize me. When I told him my name he became very excited and asked me if I heard any news of his daughter Bailtze. I knew she was killed, but I kept it from him. I consoled him by saying she was probably saved. I asked him why he was so pale. He replied that when Esther Cherpichnik was alive she brought him water from time to time to revive him. Since she was killed, he did not even have this much. A few days later, Menashe died. Shmuel Shvindelman left the place and died of cold in the forest.

Shachnovski came to us every morning and in the evening he went back to Yasku. Once he told me Rachel Hammer was also at Yasku's. Her face was singed because she had fallen asleep near a bonfire and fell into it. The next day he brought her to my shelter. It was called Aharon Lifshitz's shelter. When I saw her I almost fainted. We prayed she would not die while with us. She lay for a few weeks and improved from day to day. When she came to she wanted to go with Batya Grinshpan to bring us food.

The villagers in the area began to complain that the Jews were a burden and asked us to look for food and shelter elsewhere. From time to time I went to Stariky where they felt sorry for me and gave me food. Once I saw, from a distance, a young man chopping wood in the yard. When he saw me he stopped working and he looked at me. He went back into his house and then came out again. He approached me and asked me who I was. I told him I was one of those who lost the right to live.

He asked me: “If so, what are you doing here? You should be in Rokitno and I will take you there.” I begged him: “Is it worth it to you to have me killed for a kilo of salt? There are people in the forest who will avenge my death.” He relented and said: “Run quickly and don't show your face here again!” I went to another house. The peasant gave me some leftover food and told me to run away immediately because he could pay with his life for the charity he was extending to me. Another peasant gave a pair of woven shoes and some rags and showed me how to swaddle them. Miraculously, I found a bible with Rashi interpretation and a prayer book in his house. I was thrilled with both items. My feet would be warm and when food was scarce I could pray. We collected straw that served us as a mattress and we built a bonfire. We went to sleep inside the shelter. The wind drew the fire towards us and everything went up in flames. We managed to escape, but the bible, the prayer book and the shoes were burned.

One day I went out to chop some trees and I heard shots nearby. I went back scared to the shelter and I called all the people. They stood tense and fearful and listened to the sound of the bullets. We scattered in the forest and each one of us went into a pit covered with snow. We camouflaged ourselves with snow and we lay there for about an hour, until the shooting stopped.

Towards evening I went with Yakov Landau to Adam Gravovsky's to find out about the shooting. We discovered the Jews of Stariky were killed in the forest. As we walked out of his house we saw Germans driving by. We fell into the snow. It was a miracle that they did not see us.

We went back to the shelter and at night we decided to leave. To my great sorrow, Dvora Greenberg and Moshe the shoemaker were ill and could not join us. The Germans came and killed them.

We went towards Haim Turok's shelter. It was difficult to walk because there was a great deal of snow on the ground. Shachnovski told me to return to Stariky because the Germans would not come once they had annihilated all the Jews.

We found out that Haim and Yakov Gitelman joined the partisans. They told us to go to the forest warden, Sokolovsky, who knew where to find the partisans. When we reached him he let us warm up by his stove and his wife gave us some warm milk. She then took us to the attic and covered us with a pile of rags. They told us to go to a village whose name I don not recall. There we would speak to a peasant called Aleksei who would take us to the partisans.

Shachnovski, who up to now was our guide, stepped back. He asked me to go ahead of him because he had difficulty walking. On the way he disappeared and we did not know what motivated him to leave us. We came to Aleksei who received us warmly. He believed it was not the right time to join the partisans. We stayed with him. Yakov Landau sewed hats in his house and I helped him.

The women settled in various peasant homes. A few days later I found out that Shachnovski returned to Stariky. He stayed with Yasku for a few days and then decided to return to us. On the way, he went to see Sokolovsky to find out where we were hiding. While he was sitting in the house, the police came and caught him and a young woman from Klesov who was also hiding at Sokolovsky's. The young woman and Shachnovski were killed there. Sokolovsky was severely tortured and killed. The next day his wife was taken away and the house was burned.

In this village I met Yakov Goldman (Burd) and his son Baruch. They were hiding in a shelter in the forest. One day we heard that the Germans were planning to search the villages in the area. We went to the partisans' command and begged to be accepted. They replied that they were now going to battle with the Germans and they could not accept us. We went back to the forest. For a long time we heard the sounds of incessant shooting and we saw fire lighting up the skies. It was reprisal action by the Germans.

Many of the villagers escaped into the forests for fear of the Germans. We felt safer among them. However, this sense of security did not last. The Banderovtzis threatened the villagers that they would kill them if they helped Jews. Landau and I stayed with a kind-hearted peasant. We sewed hats and earned our keep.

At Easter 1943 there was a big conference of Banderovtzis in the village of Tinna. Our host also attended the conference even though he was not one of the Banderovtzis. Yakov and I went to the village to watch the Easter festivities. We felt that many of the young people were lying in wait for us. We took a roundabout route back to our shelter. Late in the evening our host returned full of fear. He told us that at the conference an officer of the Banderovtzis gave a speech warning everyone that anyone who hid Jews would suffer the consequences. He asked us to leave immediately. Since it was raining and it was night, he allowed us to stay till dawn. We did not sleep a wink all night. At dawn a young man came to call on the host. He was known to be one of the Banderovtzis and he had a gun. The host told us the young man was a relative and did not harm us for that reason. In light of the situation, the peasant urged us to leave or else the young man would burn our shelter with everyone inside.

We left the place with a heavy heart and with trepidation. A Shtundist called Kirila accompanied us. He loved the bible and sympathized with the fate of the refugees. He parted from us with tears in his eyes. He said that he believed that soon our troubles will be over and we will see happiness again.

We went to the village of Bober where there were partisans. We entered their camp and met a Jew. He asked us why we had come. When he heard that we wanted to join the partisans, he advised us to leave immediately. Two Jews had come only a few hours earlier and were killed. These were Haim Turok and Yakov Gitelman.
We went to the forests of Votche where there were partisans. There we found Aharon Slutzki, his daughter Miriam, Leibl Gitelman and his wife and many other Jews who were reasonably free. Avraham Eizenstein was a partisan there and he helped us to obtain food and clothing.

At the end of 1943 we heard the news that the Germans were defeated near Stalingrad and were retreating from Russian lands. Our will to live was revived. We wanted to see the defeat of our torturers and we hoped to see the remnants of our families. We lived to see the great day, the day of liberation.

[Page 334]

About The Righteous Of The World

Yosef Segal (Neve Oz)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

When they conquered the western Ukraine, the Nazis found among the Ukrainians loyal partners and active assistants in their goal of exterminating the Jews and stealing their property.

The Ukrainians had a long tradition of killing members of the Jewish people. It went back to the days of Bogdan Chmelnitzky in the 17 th century, Petlura and bands of killers and robbers (May their names be eradicated) of the civil war in 1918-1920. (In those days the Ukrainians spilled the blood of many innocent Jews).

The Ukrainians from Rokitno and area and some of the Poles who worked in the glass factory began to kill and rob the Jews even before the Nazis established themselves in Rokitno. Ukrainians who earlier seemed to be friendly and honest showed their true colors and became killers thirsty for Jewish blood.

Many Jews managed to escape from the market square on the 13 th of Elul (1942) and roamed the fields and forests. Many were either cruelly murdered by the Ukrainians or caught and handed over to the German murderers in exchange for a kilo of salt per Jewish soul.

However, on the contrary, there were some Ukrainians who had pity on the miserable souls and treated them humanely. At night, they took the escapees into their homes and fed them at great personal risk. Not once did they pay for their generosity with their lives and property.

About 20 kilometers south of Rokitno, in the village of Netrebe, tens of Jews from Rokitno and the area found shelter. They were helped by the villagers who not only did not harm them but also hid them near the village during the day. At night they took them to their homes. Many Jews survived there until the liberation by the Red Army. In the Polish village of Budki some Jews survived, but the Poles who saved them had their property burned by the Nazis.

In the same area, in the Polish village of Okopi, some tens of Jews were saved thanks to two special individuals. They are worthy of being considered part of the Righteous of the world. They are: the Catholic priest and the village teacher. The priest used to give sermons to his followers telling them not to be involved in the extermination of Jews. He asked them to help the Jews to survive until their redemption. At that time justice will prevail and the evil Nazis and their helpers will be wiped off the face of the earth. The village teacher also had compassion for the unfortunate Jews. Their suffering touched her heart and she helped in any way possible. She was killed by a Ukrainian gang on the way from the village of Rokitno while she was helping a Jewish family.

The priest was burned alive in his church. The memory of these two saintly beings stands as a ray of light in the darkness of the Nazi rule.

Others who must be mentioned are Yuzik Zalevski, Miron and Ivan Borsovich from Blizhov, Horoder from Nimovitz, Michael Kohonivich (from a hamlet near Ilova), Franko Garvovsky (of the village of Berezov), Sokolovsky and bearded Simon who endangered their lives simply to save Jews.

A special honor must be paid to the Shtundist sect who showed special love to the Jews. Thanks to these wonderful people many Jews from Rokitno and area were saved from certain death.

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