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[Page 339]

From Sheep To Slaughter – Punishment To Our Killers

Asher Binder (Neve Oz)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The first blood shedding occurred in July 1941. The Ukrainians attacked the blacksmith Yechiel Freger. We heard his screams from a distance. We ran to help him and we dispersed the mob. During this attack Avraham Golod was injured by a stone hurled at his head and he died on the next day.

When the Germans entered town they caught Alter Pik and killed him. He was accused of denouncing German parachutists to the Russian authorities when the war broke out. After him, David Baum was killed. He had left town to find partisans. However, when he could not find them, he had no choice but to return to Rokitno. The Germans discovered the fact and had him killed.

At the end of December 1941, the first transport of area Jews left for work in Vinitza. Among the 68 Jews in this forced labor group there were 14 Jews from Rokitno. Among them were Meir Eisenberg, Baruch (Borya) Shuber, Yakov Linn, Avraham Zolotov, David Roitman, myself, the tinsmiths Svetchnik and Weisman and another refugee.

David Roitman, Yakov Linn and I managed to escape and we hid in Rovno for a few months. We then returned to Rokitno. During the last roll call I escaped with 13 other Jews and hid in the village of Moshie. At the end of October 1942 a peasant came to us to tell us that the Germans and Lithuanians had arrived in the village.

We intended to leave the village immediately, but we decided to wait till daybreak.

However, during the night the killers found us and killed Mendl Schwartzblat, Leibl Lifshitz, Misha Berezovsky, Nahum Katzenelson, a refugee doctor called Levin, the two Zilberman brothers, their son and someone else whose name I do not remember.

At the end of November 1942, I was with my cousin Mordechai Binder in the village of Bilovizh. We stood near the bridge called Haim's bridge (after Haim Berezovsky). A peasant saw us and immediately called the Germans. I managed to cross the river, but my cousin was caught and killed. A few days later a peasant called Simon Slavuk caught Shimon Gendelman, Aharon Perlovich and Moshe Chechik. Perlovich managed to escape. The other two were tied with ropes with the help of another peasant. He brought them to the Ukrainian police in Berezov where they were killed.

After my cousin's murder I went to the village of Kopele. I came at night and went to a Pole's house. He pretended to be a friend and offered me supper. After this meal he said to me: “Come, let us go into the fields to search for Jews”. I had an axe, which I used to chop wood for fire. I put it aside and lit a fire. I bent my head and warmed myself up. Suddenly, I felt a hard bang on my head. The peasant hit me with the sharp edge of the axe. If I had not worn a soft hat, my head would have been split in tow. Streams of blood ran down my face and my clothes. With superhuman strength I began to run, chased by the peasant. He yelled at me: “You will not get away from me!” He held the axe covered with my blood. I reached an open field and I saw a house. There was a wedding party going on. The peasant was afraid of coming too close to the house. Its owner was a Ukrainian with whom he had a dispute. This was my lucky break. The host put slices of bread on my bleeding wounds and used a rough towel to bandage my head. I kept the bandage for about a month until my wound was covered with a scab.

After this terrible event that happened to me I was very angry. Until when will we be sheep to be slaughtered? I renewed my search for the partisans. At the end of December 1942 I met five partisans at a peasant's house in Blizhov. I told them that I wished to join them. They replied: “We derailed a train on the tracks near Tomoshgorod. Go and find out how many cars were derailed and write down the number of the caboose. Then we will accept you.” They gave me a pistol without any bullets and a live grenade. The area was infested with Bulbovtzis who terrorized everyone. I walked for 30 kilometers and did not meet anyone. I found the train and wrote down the number of cars, but I could not find the caboose number.

Although I only fulfilled half of the task, I was still accepted at the encampment. It was located in the airport of Kovsk near Leichitz. I stayed for a week and then went on a long trip. I had a chance, for the first time, to retaliate. From there I returned a distance of 70 kilometers and I reached Blizhov. Nachman Blizhovsky, Baruch Perlovich and I joined a regiment of Russian parachutists-partisans. The regiment was named after Kremlink. The commander was Veramchuk. Our task was to derail trains. We were active in the area of Olevsk-Rokitno-Klesov. Later, we went to Kovel and Pinsk. I participated in 12 operations.

When our regiment was near Glinna I looked for Simon Slavuk who had denounced Shimon Gendelman and Freger. I did this on my own. I knew that I might have to pay for it later because partisans cannot perform any operations without the commander's permission. There was a gypsy woman in Glinna who knew where this murderer was located and she took me there. I told him that the commander of the partisans was calling for him. He did not recognize me and took the announcement at face value. On the way he started talking to me. He said: “I obey every authority. When the Germans made me kill Jews, I did it. Now I am called to the partisans and I am going to them!” My blood boiled when I heard these words. I could not control myself and I shot him with my pistol. I used 30 bullets.

I returned to my regiment and told Baruch Perlovich and Nachman Blizhovsky what I had done. Ten minutes later the commander called me and told me that I will be severely punished for the killing of Slavuk. I shivered. The commander immediately added, with a smile: “You should be punished because such a murderer should not be killed in secret. A despicable person like that should be brought alive to the regiment to be killed in front of the partisans”.

Since I knew the area well, I dedicated myself to the capture of Ukrainian policemen who had spilled Jewish blood. I listened to the commander and I brought them back alive to the camp. After he questioned them minutely, he gave an order for them to be shot.

In May 1944 we were liberated in Rovno. I remained there. Part of the regiment was ordered to go to Olevsk to return equipment. Among them was Baruch Perlovich. When they reached Brezhne the Bulbovtzis attacked them and killed 8 partisans. The rest escaped to Brezhne. Perlovich saw a peasant being brought to the police. He went over and shot him explaining that this was one of the Bulbovtzis who had attacked the regiment.

A few days after Rokitno was liberated I came back to town. I found there three Ukrainian policemen who had served during the German occupation. I transferred them to the NKVD in Rovno, but I do not know what happened to them.

Among the youth of Rokitno who courageously stood up to the enemies, my brother Moshe must be mentioned. On the third night of his wandering in the forest he saw what could happen to an unarmed Jew. He decided to return home to take the pistol he owned. He arrived safely in Rokitno and took his weapon. When he reached the other side of the forest he ran into three armed policemen. My brother did not lose his cool and decided to “die with the Philistines”. He shot and killed one of the policemen, wounded another and died a hero.

When I came back to town I was told by an NKVD officer that my brother deserved to be commemorated among the proud Jews who faced a larger group without offering themselves to be slaughtered.

[Page 342]

In The Forests And Reprisal Activities

Avraham Eisenberg (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Judgment Day came to Rokitno, too. The Gestapo henchmen, accompanied by their Ukrainian helpers, began to stream into town. We saw them through the night.

The Judenrat members were summoned to the police and were told that all the Jews in town were to assemble in front of the new synagogue near the municipal market square. The news spread very quickly, but no one knew its true meaning. The murderers did not even wait for the Jews to come on their own, but they began to kick them out of their houses using sticks and gun butts.

There was great panic and pandemonium in the square. Parents sought their children and children looked for their parents. The crying and shouting reached the heavens; people fell and their blood covered the area. The wounded and the dying were groaning with pain.

Suddenly, a scream was heard. It was my mother who shouted: “Jews, run away! Death is coming to all of us!”

This scream galvanized the assembled. In a blink of an eye hundreds of people who had been sitting bent and cowering, stood up. They began to run as if carried by a strong gale. They jumped over fences and other stumbling blocks. The bullets were flying over their heads and the groaning of the wounded accompanied them.

I was among those who escaped. I did not believe I would remain alive, but a miracle happened. I reached the forest, far enough to be out of the range of the shooters. Ukrainian shepherds were lying in a circle around a bonfire and were enjoying themselves singing and whistling.

They looked at me as if I were a ghost. They could not imagine how I escaped when death was lurking in every corner. I was hungry and thirsty. I asked them for some bread and water to satisfy my hunger and slake my thirst, but I was denied.

From there I walked to Karpilovka, to Solts who was a friend of the family. He received me warmly and could not believe his eyes. He was certain I had been killed with my family. He gave me food and I went to the forest. I heard that there were some mysterious people there called partisans. I wanted to join them. I walked every which way. I fell, got up and fell again. I wished to die so my suffering would end.

Suddenly, I heard rustling in the bushes. I began to shake. I was sure the murderers were lying in wait for me. My end was near. However, I heard Yiddish spoken and I recognized the voice to be that of Malka Kaplan. The heads that popped out of the thick bushes were those of her husband Yosef Kaplan, Shimon Gendelman, Toddy Linn, Dodya Burd, Yitzhak Vorona and his son Dov. To my great surprise I also saw my brothers Hershel and Velvel and my brother-in-law Haim Hanzanchuk. They told me that my sister Ronka, her husband Fishel Shechter and their child in her arms had gone to a peasant's house to beg for food. When they left him German and Ukrainian policemen appeared and killed them there.

My brother-in-law Haim found a shelter in a peasant's hut. He was a tailor and was given food in exchange for his work. We began to get used to the conditions.

I dug a shelter for my brothers and me. The Weiner family was hiding in a shelter not far from us. However, we could not be calm. Murderous gangs arrived in the forest. My brother-in-law Haim heard that groups of Germans and Lithuanian policemen were hunting for Jews in the forests.

Suddenly, the sounds of gunfire filled the air. The shots became louder and the shouts of the murderers could be heard. Malka Weiner became hysterical. She started to run and I ran with her. In her haste and panic she forgot to wake her little daughter and she only took her son Baruch in her arms. We were exhausted and we fell on the ground. The night cold woke us up. I told Malka that we should return to the shelters to see if anyone was alive. We wandered for many hours in the forest. It was a dark night and we could not see our way.

At daybreak we reached the shelters. It was very quiet everywhere. Malka, scared, entered the shelter and immediately a horrible scream was heard: “My child! They murdered my daughter!” The poor girl was killed in her sleep and her body was lying in the damp and dark hiding place. Her daughter Breindl was dead. In the light of dawn her face looked peaceful, as if with a special smile.

When I saw the dead girl I feared for my brothers' welfare. Who knew what happened to them? I ran crazed to our shelter. I did not see my brothers there, but on one side I found the body of a Jewish refugee who had joined me in my wanderings and on the other side I found the body of my wife Rosia.

I searched in the dark touching every grain of earth with my hands. As I was bending down I found the bodies of my brothers. One was smashed with a rifle butt and the other was shot. About 20 meters away was the body of Berel, the son of Yitzhak Vorona.

Struck with fear, I began to run away from this killing field to search for Jews to tell them about my problems and to try to forget the bigger fear. I found some Jews, among them the wife of Avraham Barman from Snovidovich and others.

She asked me to go with her to the shelter where her husband was hiding at one of the peasants. We walked a whole night in pouring rain. At dawn we reached a bridge. We suddenly heard loud whistles, which then stopped, and all was quiet.

Rustling was heard among the bushes. In this quiet I recognized the voice of Yitzhak Vorona who had been saved by a miracle. When he was escaping from the house of a forest warden the Germans passed by and did not see him.

We walked together. We wanted to cross the bridge before dawn. We climbed on it, our shoes muddy and wet and our clothes filthy and full of lice. We sat down on the bridge to rest a little and we dozed off. Suddenly a suspicious sound woke us up. When I opened my eyes I saw the Germans coming after us. I immediately jumped under the bridge and I covered myself with thick underbrush. The others also jumped after me. The murderers came close to where we were hiding and yelled: “Get out quickly, Jews! We will not harm you!” We held our breath and did not move. I heard orders given in Ukrainian: “Comb the area and catch them alive!” I decided to escape, no matter what. I crawled forward in the bushes. I fell and became tangled in the thick vegetation. A barrage of fire came at me. It was automatic rifles as well as grenades. The shrapnel hung on the bushes. Everything was on fire.

I crawled a great distance and I heard, from a distance, sounds of shots and blasting. The danger passed, at least for a while. I sat down in the shade of a bush, tears streaming from my eyes. I was all alone and I was being hunted like an animal. I decided to return to the shelter to bury my brothers and my cousin. I made my way in the dark. I stumbled on a body and I was frightened and jumped back. It was Dvosil Svetchnik*, the wife of Yitzhak the hat maker. I could not go over to bury them because I was petrified. I looked for other Jews to help me to perform the last rites for my brothers. However, there was no one in sight.

It was a Saturday. Around noon I dug a trench and put in one brother and my cousin Berel. I dug a second trench and put in my older brother. I kissed the cold bodies, covered them with soil and parted from them forever.

I then went to look for my brother-in-law – the only one left alive from our large family. When I reached the village of Netrebe I discovered my brother-in-law was no longer alive. I found out he had gone to collect his belongings from a peasant. The latter wanted to get rid of him and served him some poisoned food for dinner. The last remnant of my family was gone.

One of the villagers told me that his brother-in-law, who lived on the other side of the village, had contact with some Jews, among them Toddy Linn. I went to him, but he told me that “strange” people had taken him with them. He returned a while later and gave me the happy news that Toddy was taken by the partisans. He told me that Russians had come to give him a test. In order to test his courage they tied him to a tree and aimed a rifle at him. When he burst out crying they calmed him down by telling him they were Russian partisans and they only wanted to test him. A few days later the partisans told Toddy that they had to leave the area because there were too many Germans there and they could not take him with them. His begging did not help. Again we remained isolated and subject to attacks.

We approached a barn where we wanted to sleep. Suddenly we heard terrible groans and we discovered Niuska Kokel. We were shocked by her appearance. She looked swollen from hunger. Her body was covered with wounds and she could barely talk. She told us that she was hiding in the barn for a week and she decided to lie down to die. She preferred death to falling into the hands of the Germans. We tried to calm her down and to encourage her. We washed her face and fed her milk. We then took her in our arms and we brought her to a peasant's house. We ordered him to take care of her. He would pay for it if anything happened to her, since we were partisans.

We continued in our efforts to join the partisans. We searched for them everywhere. On the way we saw, from a distance, three men standing in the shadow of a broken wooden fence on which there was a machine gun. When they noticed us, one of them threatened us with a live grenade and ordered us to identify ourselves. We told him we were Jews and that we wished to join the partisans. He immediately put down the grenade and motioned with his hand to come closer. They began to question us. One of us, a refugee, said he was a printer's apprentice. Dodya Burd said he knew how to tile roofs and I was a carpenter.

Of the three of us only the printer was welcome. We begged to be taken. We explained that the three of had wandered together in the forest and we were united by the suffering. We could not be separated now. Our begging softened the heart of the commander and he agreed to let us join.

In mid January 1943 we were accepted by the partisans. Everyone received a gun, bullets and three grenades. We now felt the time for revenge and punishment of our murderers had come. One day a long column of tens of carts with hundreds of fighters was organized in the thick of the forest. Dodya Burd and I were among them. We began to move when it became dark. This time we did not go into battle, but only went to collect food from villages in the area for the partisans. In Netrebe I went to see how Niuska Kokel was doing. Her wounds healed from the ointment put on by the peasant's wife. Her health had improved considerably. I encouraged by telling her the time of redemption was near and she would soon be free. Indeed, she remained alive and returned to Rokitno. However, there she contracted blood poisoning. She was taken to Lvov, but all efforts to save her failed and she died.

Our first battle with the Bulbovtzis took place in the village of Karpilovka. It was a reprisal for the murder of a unit commander. We marched in columns towards the village. We soon reached the first huts. It was the lull before the storm. A shot rang in the air followed by the ringing of bells. All the local churches were summoning the villagers against the approaching partisans.

The noise and shooting increased. Shouts and screams, shots and explosions were heard. I advanced with three men and came upon Bulbovtzis firing a cannon. We finished them off with grenades.

An order was given to gather all the men, to burn the houses and the barns, to destroy the wells – to teach the Bulbovtzis a lesson. The Bulbovtzis were punished. Those with guns were killed. We took revenge on these murderers who had spilled so much Jewish blood.

As long as I was a partisan, I searched for Jews to help them with food. At night I rode on a horse packed with all kinds of food and went from place to place. In a shelter I found Aharon Lifshitz, Mara Slutzki, her father Aharon and two Jews from Ludvopol. In this way I also helped Raphael Burd's daughter from Karpilovka and the daughter of the Rabbi from Brezhne. After Karpilovka was burned, I met Esther Ivry and I gave her a package of food. This saved her from starvation.

The most audacious operation I participated in was the battle of Rokitno. One time, the commander called me in and told me that the regiment intended to conquer Rokitno from the Germans. Since I knew the roads he appointed me as scout and guide. I happily undertook this task. The regiment assembled and we were on our way. Near Messiviche, not far from the flourmill, we stopped. At night a small advance group went to Rokitno. The commander told me that as we enter town we must signal with red flares. The group divided itself into smaller groups. Some crossed the bridge and went to the glass factory and the others went towards the Tarbut School.

When we approached the school, the signal was given and the partisans who surrounded Rokitno from all sides opened fire. My group began to fire at the Germans who were in the building and they ran away. In the meantime the rest of the regiment, 1200 people, entered town. When the Germans saw what was coming, most of them escaped to an armored train. A group of 20 of them hid in the glass factory, which had been fortified. We overcame them. We took more than 20 Germans and Polish policemen to the forest and we eliminated them.

We returned to town and we burned the houses of all the collaborators. Many of the Polish and Ukrainian murderers fell into our hands and we administered due justice. We bombed the glass factory, destroyed the railroad tracks, and burned the police station and the houses inhabited by the SS. It took a whole night. When this daring operation was over, although we had no losses, we were told to retreat from Rokitno. The Germans were returning with many troops. We went to Messiviche where we took out all the flour in the mill and burned the building. The whole village was also burned.

After these two operations we went deep into Poland and we reached the Bog River. At night I went with two partisans to bring food for the regiment. Avraham Zolotov was with us. On the way we ran into Germans and a battle ensued. Avraham Zolotov was killed. This was a bloody battle. We killed many Germans, but we suffered many casualties. We continued with these reprisals until the war ended.

*an error in the name since her death and burial are witnessed elsewhere. Also husband's name and occupation do not match.

[Page 347]

My Participation In The Partisan Activities

David Burd (Ramat Yosef)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

In October 1942 I was sitting in a camouflaged tent near the village of Netrebe with my brother Berl, Avraham Eisenberg, Toddy Linn, the three Golubovitz brothers and some others. At dusk, a cow suddenly emerged from the bushes, followed by a young local lad. He eyed us suspiciously and we realized that we had to escape from there. This is exactly what we did. We went 4 or 5 kilometers further. On the following day, Toddy talked me into returning to the tent. My heart told me that a return to the tent meant an encounter with death. However, he begged me so much that I relented.

We came to the tent and we lit a fire. As soon as we lit it we saw a German soldier coming out of the bushes holding a rifle. He wanted to catch us alive. Toddy was barely able to tell me: “Run quickly!” He ran and I followed. The Germans shot from all directions. When G-d allots years to a person, that person escapes even from such danger. The Germans chased us, but they did not catch us and we were saved.

We wandered in the forest for two weeks and we then went to a house of our acquaintance, Yuzik Zalevski. We found his wife crying. When we asked the reason, she replied that ten armed men had taken her husband and were on their way to his father's house.

We followed the trail and we reached the house. We knocked on the door and Yuzik opened it. We asked him if the men were partisans or Banderovtzis. He replied that he could not identify them. However, he remembered one of their slogans: “G-d is up above and Stalin is far away”. As we were speaking, a group of men suddenly appeared shouting: “Jews, stop! You are all “kaput”. They ordered us to go to a place where they guarded us – two in front, two in the rear and two on the sides.

They searched us and did not find anything. They pretended to be German policemen and threatened to kill us immediately. One of them spoke to us and wanted to know from where we came. We told him we were from Rokitno. “What are you doing here?” We said we were searching for food. “You only want food? That's all? Do you hear, Grishka, they are hungry. Give them food!” Grishka took out from his backpack some pork. He put slabs on large pieces of bread and said: “Eat to your heart's content”. From this action we understood that these men were partisans. After we ate enough they told us to leave. They warned us not to tell anyone about this encounter. After liberation we discovered that they were parachutists from the Medvedev division – the first group to be parachuted on Polish soil.

Finally, the time we had hoped for came. We would now take part in the defeat of the enemy. We heard there was a unit of partisans not far from us. We decided to send my brother to find out if this was true and if they were partisans or Banderovtzis. Two or three days passed and my brother did not return. We were certain he had fallen into the hands of the Banderovtzis. I went to see a local acquaintance and I burst out crying. I told him that I feared for my brother's life. When he heard this he began to shout: “You should only be so lucky to be where your brother is now”. He told me my brother had visited him wearing a red ribbon on his hat. He told him the partisans were not allowing him to leave the area and he asked him to tell us to come to this partisan unit because we would be well received.

We were on our way. When we reached their location, one of the partisans brought us to the commander. He asked us if we had any arms. We replied that we did not have any arms, but we had trades. For example, Avraham Eisenberg was a carpenter. “Good”, said the commander. “We need a carpenter to build us tents.” They accepted all of us, even those who did not have a trade.

We waited for the day when we could avenge the spilled blood of our families. The hoped for that day came. I was a machine gunner and a sapper. We planted landmines in the fields where the Germans were passing. As they approached the site, we pulled wires to explode the landmines. We also fired a barrage of shots from all sides. It was an operation of “hit and run”. We would immediately go into the forest where we were certain the Germans were afraid to enter. One of the operations in which I participated was the blasting of the glass factory.

[Page 348]

A Partisan In The Kovpak Regiment

Todres Linn (Kiryat Motzkin)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

After wandering in the forests I discovered there were Russian partisans in the area. I, along with other remnants of our town, joined them. We went out on all kinds of operations. Life was a little freer, but still dangerous. At that time, the Kovpak division arrived in our area. It took 100 people from the local unit. I, too, joined them. There was a special Jewish unit, famous for its battles with the Nazi invaders.

We advanced to the oil pits in Drohovich. On the way we destroyed all the bridges and the railroad tracks. We conquered towns and villages and we defeated the Germans thoroughly. When we conquered the town of Skalat in Galicia, we liberated a camp of Jews. We then arrived at the oil pits and we decided to bomb them. The Nazis organized many SS divisions and army units. They surrounded us in the hills and we suffered heavy casualties. In a decisive battle in the town of Dlatin one of the important division commanders fell. We retreated in haste and confusion.

I was once sent to reconnoiter a village with 10 other men. We were surrounded by Banderovtzis. During the short battle, many of us were caught. However, I was able to escape with two other Jews. We could not return to our division because there were ambushes everywhere. In the evenings we went on raids to obtain food. In spring 1943 we were closer to the front and we were free from the threat of the enemy.

In the Kovpak division, I met Nechama Gelfand, Borya Nagel, Shteindel and other young people from Rokitno. (Some of them were killed in battles). In March 1944 I returned my ammunition to the Russian authorities and I asked permission to go to Rokitno. I was hoping to find some family members still alive. To my sorrow, I found Christians in my house. The town was burned and there were very few Jews. I will never forget those moments when I went up to the attic and I found clothes belonging to my parents and my sisters. My tears choked me and I cried bitterly. At every step I saw sad ruins. Our dear departed ones were gone forever.

[Page 349]

The Hour Of Reprisal Has Come

Moshe Marshalek (Kibbutz R'shafim)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

When the Germans entered Rokitno I remained in the ghetto with my sister Shoshana (She was later killed in the forest, I was told by the Ukrainians). We were isolated from the family. We lived with my aunt and uncle Hershel and Lifsha Greenberg. We suffered great pains and humiliation in the ghetto. I still remember how a former Polish corporal took my uncle Aharon Pik to the palace forest to kill him there. All the efforts of the Jewish committee and the begging of my grandmother Hannah in front of the commander (Folksdeutch) did not help. The town residents were shocked by the first casualty – before the great extermination.

Everyone heard that the Germans intended to exterminate us, but we did not believe it would happen here. The Jews paid the Germans a new head tax every so often. The older generation remembered the Germans from WWI and they were certain they could be bought off. They did not believe that a whole population could be murdered - even though they heard about mass killings of Jews in the area.

The terrible day came. I was able to escape from the killing field with some other Jews. We felt terribly alone. Our family members were gone. What purpose was there to live? Some despaired and returned to town to be killed. I was determined to stay alive. We roamed the forests and we ate mushrooms and blackberries. For safety reasons we broke up into small groups. I stayed with Aharon Reznik and his son and a few other young people – Shepsel, Meir, Syoma Lifshitz and Moshe Greber. We went towards the hamlets of Blizhov. We hid among the thick trees and the marshes became our home. We were afraid to be seen in daylight. At night we went to the villages and the hamlets to beg for food. Many times we were chased by various killers, but they did not succeed. We built fires where we roasted potatoes and we warmed ourselves up. Every sound was suspicious. At times peasants with axes tried to kill us. We were saved by miracles.

I learned the secrets of the forest – the paths, marshes and trees. I remembered every tree in a special way so I would not lose my way. We learned to dress like the peasants. We wove shoes from marsh reeds. In the hard winter we went to the peasants to ask for food and to warm up. Luckily, the hamlet residents were Shtundists and they helped us. In exchange for food I worked for Pavlo Zankov. At that time the partisans began to appear in the area. When we were searching for the partisans we once saw horse riders in the forest. In our naiveté, we thought they were partisans (the farmers only used oxen). We were happy to see them, but we soon saw they were Ukrainian policemen hunting for Jews. We hid in the thick branches and they did not see us.

I helped old man Reznik and his son in the forest. The son died and we buried him there. The father felt it was better to die in the hands of G-d than in the hands of the murderers. Sometimes we went to visit Pavlo in the evenings to read a chapter of the bible. He loved sacred texts and I read them to him willingly. Aharon Reznik interpreted the verses and argued with him. The bible reminded me that somewhere there was Eretz Israel. Would we ever reach it? In those days, in the middle of war, it was only a dream.

One evening the partisans appeared. They were members of the famous Kovpak division. They only accepted Shepsel and Meir. They said I was too young. They consoled me by saying I could be useful to the local partisans as a guide.

The time for revenge on the Germans and their Ukrainian helpers came. The partisans wrote a brilliant chapter in the history of the war against the Germans. Harsh battles took place. Trains were hit by landmines and the enemy was afraid. In the evenings the Germans locked themselves up in fortresses for fear of the partisans. This went on until the Red Army dealt a heavy blow and came closer to us. The town was liberated. We, the few remnants, came back to town. We tried to somehow rebuild our lives, but it was not for long. We could not bear the terrible tragedy that befell the Jews of Rokitno. When the opportunity came, we left. We wandered in various countries trying to reach our homeland. After much wandering and after meeting remnants of other families, I discovered that my two brothers had remained in the Soviet Union. I was fortunate to meet them again in Israel.

[Page 351]

The “Kol Nidrei” Prayer Of Haim Kek

Gad Rosenblat

Translated by Ala Gamulka

…In the morning we found ourselves not far from the village of Snovidovich near Rokitno. We decided to stay there for a while. Something special drew us to that area. In the summer, when we had gone through the Rokitno area on the way to the Carpathian Mountains, we heard that many Jews were either hiding in the forest and peasant homes or they joined the Medvedev, Davidov, and Shitov partisan divisions. This time, since we did not wish to go north, we decided to search for other Jews.

We did not have to search for very long. In a Polish village near Snovidovich, we found a few Jewish families working in the houses and fields of the villagers. We stayed with these Jews for several days. They told us about their troubles and the operations of the local partisans as well as those of the Banderovtzis.

It was two days before Yom Kippur and they did not know if they would find a place to pray. A tall skinny Jew told me about it. It seemed as if all the troubles of exile were on his shoulders. This Jew was Haim Kek from Rokitno. He was brought to slaughter with his family, but he managed to escape into the forest nearby. He lived in villages, forests and ditches. His troubles were many, but he focused all his thoughts on preparations for Yom Kippur prayers. A minyan was needed. Kek said: “Two members of my family and I – make three. All of you, that is more than a minyan. When we pray each one of us will lead, each will remember some parts and others will continue”.

My heart was moved and I agreed to Kek's request. I went to a peasant's house and I asked him to remove pictures of the Holy mother and her son from the walls because we wanted to conduct prayers for Yom Kippur there. The floor was cleaned thoroughly. We placed a small table on the eastern wall and Kek brought four large wax candles and lit them. The sun was setting. Kek walked around, looking at the candles and the clean tablecloth on the table. Many of us had moist eyes.

We took off our guns and placed them in the corner. Four armed partisans guarded the house and its entrances. The time for Kol Nidrei came. There was no prayer book. Who could do the whole prayer from memory? Our troubles made us forget how to pray, but, as if by magic, all of us suddenly were able to recite it aloud. The mournful voices filled the house and seemed to escape outdoors, to reach the heavens. “May all the people of Israel be forgiven ...for all the people are at fault.”

Through the open window we heard sounds of suppressed sobbing. It was the women and the girls who came, but remained outside near the window to hear the prayers. Every man took a turn in leading the service, beginning with Haim Kek. Everyone remembered something from their childhood and the others joined in.

We prayed for a long time. We did not want to part one from the other. Something bound us together. In the middle of the service, I was told that a famous local partisan, Zvi Olshansky, had come to pray. He heard about the minyan from some Jewish families and he came. He was a big, tall and broad-shouldered man and very handsome. He had the spirit of a Jewish partisan who was ready to avenge the honor of his people. All the peasants in the area mentioned his name with admiration and respect. There were many legends about him and his achievements.

Olshansky put his rifle in the corner and joined the prayers. When we finished praying I spoke with Olshansky for a long time. I heard from him about many Jewish partisans from Rokitno who were in the Shitov, Medvedev, Ploskonosov and other divisions.

From the book “A Fire Took Hold of the Forest”, by Gad Rosenblat, pp. 260-263, published by Hakibbutz Hameuhad 1957.

Lighting of Shabbes Candles

[Page 353]

Our Brothers – We Shall Remember! *
(In memory of the martyrs of Rokitno, murdered by the Nazis)

Hannah Segal (Neve Oz)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Our brothers, we shall remember how together
We hid in the forest, back to back,
We will still remember, our brothers,
How the bridge was bombed,
And everything that followed…

Father, how you mourned your son!
And you, unfortunate mother, whose baby
The murderers flung at the wall
We shall remember, our brothers.

You, young orphan boy,
Your courage, dear daughter
How you fought the murderers.

We shall remember you to eternity and we will not forget
Your suffering and affliction, we too, felt.
We will tell the world what
Our enemies did to you.
Forever we will whisper – revenge…

Brothers, we shall avenge your blood
You who jumped to certain death,
So that the others could be saved.

You, whose ears no longer hear
The birds chirping.
You, who will never again lift
Your eyes to the heavens.

We shall remember you forever
You, our heroes
Who suffered and shivered.

You who escaped the death camps
Who entered the forests
To save your brothers.
Those who remained
And never returned.

You who held a rifle
In one hand
And a grenade in the other.
You whose courage
Is an example for us
Forever and ever.

We shall remember you, our brothers
To our last days.
We will hope for revenge on those
Who spilled your blood,
Clean and pure blood.

*Written by the author at the age of thirteen.

[Page 354]

Dates Of The Holocaust Period In Rokitno

Compiled by Haim Shteinman

World War II Breaks 17 Elul – 1.9.1939
Rokitno Conquered by Soviets 4 Tishrei – 17.9.1939
Soviet-German War Breaks 27 Sivan – 22.6.1941
Soviet Army Retreats from Rokitno 15 Tammuz – 10.7.1941
Rokitno Conquered by Germans 12 Av – 5.8.1941
Ordered to Wear Star of David 17 Av – 10.8.1941
Ordered to Wear Yellow Patch 9 Tishrei – 30.9.1941
Ghetto Founded 28 Nissan – 15.4.1942
Ghetto Annihilated 13 Elul – 26.8.1942
Germans Retreat and Town Liberated by Soviets 8 Tevet - 4.1.1944

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