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[pp. 125-148]

Vishnevo during the War

by Gdaliyau Dudman
(From written materials and from interviews)

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan


The announcement of the war of Poland and Germany spread rapidly amongst the town's natives and took them as if they were struck by lightning. A sense of depression spread as if dark clouds covered the entire town. Everywhere in the street, bulletins were posted announcing a general draft. On the radio, General Regis Shmickly announced that everyone must fight for the preservation of the nation. The townspeople ran from one place to the other not knowing what to do. One question was on the lips of all, “What is to happen to us?” Soon we heard an announcement that the entire region of Krakow, Zanschuts, and Warsaw was conquered by the German army and that they were now going toward Lublin.

Very upsetting was the announcement in the Gmina by the farmers in the area who said that German parachutes were seen in the forest. Rumors circulated that the head of the police, Anhavit, supposedly called all the policemen and a large number of civilians and gave them bats, ordering them to kick out the paratroopers.

After a few days, 200 families of Polish Jewish refugees arrived in Vishnevo, and the townspeople took care of sheltering them. Meanwhile, all the youths of the town were inducted into the Polish Army and left for the front. The situation was getting worse and worse, and no one knew what the next day would bring. Finally there was an announcement that Russia and Germany had agreed to divide Poland. Immediately there was a feeling of safety in town. We felt that nothing bad would happen to us since according to the agreement the town would be passed to Soviet authorities. And shortly this rumor became reality. There were fights for only 16 days, and then all of Poland was conquered and divided between the Germans and Russians. The Polish Army was shattered; its officers left the battlefields and ran for their lives. Some of the youths who were forced to join the Polish Army returned home. Joschke son of Chana Dubesz, Daliau and Moschke, sons of Itzha the Baker, Chaim, son of Matke, and Shalom, son of Biela, all of a sudden were seen walking up the hill on Vilna St. with their backpacks. They looked exhausted and they were so dusty that you couldn't recognize them. They dragged their feet as if they were made of stone. They had walked all the way from Lida where they had been stationed, and they were amongst the few survivors from their unit. They were able to hide in a forest at the time of the German invasion, and that is how they survived.

Almost at the same time we saw on Volozhin St. the Polish police force and the civil servants putting their family members on wagons and escaping from town, not knowing where to go exactly. Finally they joined what was left of the Polish Army and left in the direction of Vilna.

1941, Vishnevo under Soviet Rule

So far 24 hours passed without any rulers. We got together with our Christian neighbors and we agreed to put some guards around town until the Russians came. Through that night all the lights stayed on in houses, for none could sleep. Once in a while we would go outside to see what was happening. We all stood guard to avoid any danger or calamity. Near midnight we saw two big Soviet tanks that lit up the whole area with their lights. They came from Volozhin St. One went in the direction of Gishrenia and the second one made a turn and returned to where it came from.

Following that first trickle of the Russian presence, on the next day at about noon the rest of regular Russian army started flowing into town, in great waves heading towards the direction of Vilna. There were thousands of them and they filled the streets and markets and every corner of town. Near the house of Zvortenivsky, someone put a table and the representatives of both the Jewish and Christian community welcomed the Red Army and its officers with bread and salt. Schmarka Itzkovic and Yishaiau Rubin took the holy flag out of the Catholic Church and exchanged it with the red flag and stood at the head of the committee.

The day after that, farmers from the surrounding villages started coming. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood, both Jews and Christians, with the spreading excitement that encompassed the population. The streets were filled with celebrating people. In the market there was a stage and all the representatives of the community--laborers, farmers, merchants, civil servants, teachers--were invited. The teacher Yakov Hirsch Alishkevicz made a welcoming speech. It was very excited and passionate. He addressed all the thousands of people who gathered and the Red Army soldiers that filled the entire area. At the end he announced, “Long Live the Red Army that delivered us from slavery to freedom!” And everyone yelled in excitement, “Long live! Long live!” In response, the Soviet officer made a speech thanking everyone for the wonderful welcome speeches that were made and said, “22 years you were like slaves, but now the simple, abused, and exploited laborer is free. Long live the Red Army that brought you freedom!”

For the next two weeks there was a continuous flow of troops through town with heavy and light armor as well. They treated us very politely and they didn't hurt anyone. They were not even allowed to touch an apple. All the stores were open and there was a huge amount of activity in the markets. No one was haggling over prices. The soldiers bought everything that they could see and they paid in zlotys and rubles. They paid two hundred rubles for a suit and they would say, “Vishava ou vas” meaning “It's very cheap here.” But after a few days the stores were closed, since almost all their merchandise had been sold, and the very little that was left was now put in the basement since it was clear to all of us that we would not get new supplies for a while.

Not a long time passed and the Soviets became more established in the area and started bringing in new rules, but life continued. You could see that they really cared and they wanted to bring a new culture and way of life to replace the old, destroyed order. Instead of the small shops for food and iron and so on, new cooperatives were opened to sell the same products, and thousands of people from the town and villages around it now stood for hours waiting to get salt or oil. Also, two stolovas1 opened, one in the house of Yosef Lubchensky and one in Tzvert Nivsky's.

When the season for the seeding of the fields arrived, people started registering for land. For this purpose, the lands in Boktowa that used to belong to the brothers Milikovsky, the land in Gishrenia that used to belong to Yakovlev who went to America, and also the land of Berezina that prior belonged to the veterans of the Polish Army, now were nationalized and given to the local population. The same fate later came to the land that belonged to Abba Gumnitz. Later on the authorities gave a special norm of payment that was done by a share of the produce for each piece of land that was given to the citizens. They were ordered to and did pay in potatoes, wheat, and other products according to the amount of land that they were given. The people who decided the norms and the taxes to be paid and would collect them were Bar-Mikhail Rubin and I. We were responsible for the harvest. In Bogdonova there were large storage buildings for potatoes, and the meat was in large warehouses in Zabrazy. There Joschke and Ruvka, sons of Bela, worked.

When the Soviet rulers put roots in the area, they started clearing the population of its counter-revolutionary elements like the Asdoniks2 , the patriotic Polish, and the kulaks from the villages. Jews who were known as landlords or others who were guilty in the eyes of the rulers now were taken from their homes during the night and for a while nobody knew what had happened to them. From the Christians, the people who were sent away by the authorities were that Evil One and her sons, also Huvit Kokoshka, the families Smolrenik from Salkovishizna, Tzvertnivksy and others. People were panicking, fearing that they would be deported. Some of the wealthier Jews were already starting to try to get along with the authorities to improve their situation. People like Abba Gumnitz, Malke Moshe Koppels (?), Chanan Zusman, Chaim Ydel Zusman, the brothers Milikovsky, and others were walking around in constant fear. For some strange reason, the opposite occurred. None of them were touched and deportation was actually experienced by the lower class people, amongst them Zeev Davidson, Mordechai Zalev, and Yishaiau Rubin who was a known Communist and at one time second to the commandant until his arrest. Their crime was counter-revolutionary activities. They were arrested and put in jail, and then they were taken through many places, finally in Siberia all the years of the war. Shortly after they also sent their families, their wives and children, and all the Jews of Vishnevo stood sadly with their heads down near the wagons that were taking them to Minsk. Everyone said goodbye, hearts aching, and their eyes full of tears to see the horrible tragedy.

I must say that even then there were a few who foresaw the events to come and said, “Only God knows if there will be days when we will envy them.” Their hearts told them, and they knew what they told them. An ironic twist of fate determined that they who were deported to Siberia would be left almost entirely alive, and most of them after the bloody war came to Israel, while the ones who said goodbye to them and wept for them almost entirely perished.

On the 22nd of June 1941, Molotov announced that on Sunday at 4 in the morning the Soviet Union was attacked by the barbaric German army of Hitler. The sky became ominous, and never again was there a ray of light until the bloody end. The next morning, no one could go to work. I was sent by my bosses to Volozhin to get instructions, but when I reached the government offices there I found pandemonium and utter confusion about what was to come. I returned home as I came, with no instructions. On the way I encountered already a big truck filled with Soviet civil workers with their wives and children traveling in the direction of Minsk. I also met Doctor Podzelver with his wife and their driver going from Vishnevo to Volozhin, trying to get to Russia and escape the Nazis. It was impossible for us to accept that the huge Soviet Army that only two years before flowed by in a never-ending parade for two weeks with all its arms and armor, would suddenly retreat in panic and disappear shortly beyond the horizon.

All of a sudden we heard the sound of planes. At first we were very happy. We were sure it was Soviet planes. I stood there and counted forty-two planes. On the road I saw a brigade of Russian soldiers approaching and my heart was put at ease, when suddenly I heard their commander yelling to them that they must run into the forest. Immediately after, there was a sound of huge explosions that shook the entire forest and surrounding area. I was all shook up. I didn't know what to do. Should I join the soldiers in the direction of Volozhin and Minsk? Or should I return to my parents and my town? After a strong internal struggle I decided to return home and to accept the fate of others as my own fate.

In the big village of Tzkovichizna, the Christians stood by their homes and looked with anticipation at what was happening. Among the people who stood there I saw Tzedilka, who was a known Jew-hater who waited impatiently for the moment when he could abuse the Jews. Unavoidably but regrettably our eyes met. He started cackling. We understood each other exactly. When I entered town, I found the fredsdottle Noskovich giving his last speech. He announced to the population that they must not spread panic, but the next day he disappeared together with most of the civil servants and the local head of the Communist Party.

Now the Jewish townspeople were isolated and helpless amongst the Jew-haters who wished us the worst and waited for the moment when they would no longer have to keep their predatory, bloodthirsty urges in check. The fear of what was to come and the shadows of future atrocities floated about the town, and the villagers of the area became common guests in town. They kept walking in the streets, giving ugly looks to the scared Jews. Many of them were drunk and would cause mayhem in the streets, breaking windows.

My parents, like the rest of the people, were very depressed and did not know what to do. They were old. My father was 74, my mother 68. When I came home they asked, “What should we do? Should we escape?” But I knew already that there was no place we could escape to. All the roads were blocked. The only way was to go to Minsk, which was 60 km away. Some of the townspeople did arrive in Minsk, like Ch.B. Dudman, Berl Levin, Doctor Podzolver, but when they were past Minsk they were told to return since the road was already blocked by the German army.

I didn't dare to stay at home, so on Tuesday the 24th of June, I escaped to the village of Lotoshi, to the house of my friend. In this village also hid Chanan Zusman. I sat by the window behind the curtain, the window that faced the street, and I kept looking outside. I was dressed like a Christian villager in farmer's clothing. My host and friend would let me know what was happening. Here he told me the farmers returned from a market day in one of the towns, for them the world was open. They let him know that in Rakov, near Minsk, the Germans held all the Jews of the town in the synagogue and burned them alive. I would listen to their stories and had to pretend to not care while my intestines turned.

Before that, on Friday morning, the first paratroopers of the Germans came to the area in large numbers, as if they were ants coming out of their nest and filling the entire area. That evening, the regular German Army arrived, and my Christian friend told me that a committee of the leading Christian citizens in town greeted them, amongst them the pharmacist Pobol, the parish priest, and Turinsky (Torinsky? Toronsky?). They made a speech blessing the Germans, and in response the Germans immediately appointed Turinsky the commandant of the town. Shortly after, every Jew-hater and thug and all the worst elements in town became policemen. They now controlled the entire area and started torturing and killing people. At first they aimed for the people who were active in the Communist Party. They turned in Kozak and the Germans gave him a death penalty. Also, Zaruide the blacksmith and the first SelSoviet head Petrovic, were shot.

When they were done with the Communists, they started looking at the Jews. On that Friday, they announced that all Jewish men must gather in the yard of the church. I myself was hiding in Latoshi at that time, and while I was sitting there, looking from the window, I saw a group of German soldiers coming on motorcycles and entering the yard. My friend's wife immediately came to greet them. Smiling and happy looking, the soldiers took off their jackets and washed themselves in the well, and meanwhile they flirted with the woman who gave them soap and towels. At the same time, my friend stood by the window with his baby in his hands, and all was done to not make them suspicious. I sat there as if I was sitting on fire and I could hardly control my nerves. I was full of fear that they would come in the house and see me. I thanked God when they left and finally went on their way, but their visit made it clear to me I could not stay there, so when dusk came, I left the house through the fields, and taking the side roads I arrived in town. It was already night, and I somehow managed to get in with the rest of the men in the yard of the church and no one realized it.

Meanwhile they kept bringing more and more Jews from the town, making it so crowded that we could hardly breathe. On the fence that was made of rocks around the church, they put Germans with automatic weapons to create an atmosphere of horror for us. For many hours we lay on the ground without moving, and only at 2 AM did they give an order to get out of the building and into the yard. Then they said that everyone under 40 must come with them. The others could go home. It was total darkness and we passed the town, surrounded by soldiers with heavy weapons, until we got to the village of Charnoviczi.

Here two German officers and one farmer from the village met us and ordered us to take some wood and to build a bridge to Kiloria. We walked like this the entire day and at the end of the day we entered a barn where they locked us in. But I must say that the soldier who watched us from outside was kinder than usual. He gave us cigarettes and brought us bread from their kitchen and asked us that we not tell the other soldiers who would come later about all his deeds. There was a rumor circulating that he wasn't German but Czechoslovakian. In the morning we were taken out of the barn and ordered to work on the road between Charnovitz and Olinovo. Now we were in a group of 300 men. We were spread on the entire area and we worked on our knees for days. Here also our guards were not mean to us. They let us bring food from town and on the third day we were released and allowed to go back home.

When that first brigade left the town, a new one came to take its place, and again all the Jews had to gather now in the synagogue. Here is a typical incident from that time:

Yosef Dudman, who was used as a translator by the Germans, was standing in the synagogue entrance and talking to a German officer when all of a sudden a Christian man came running and said, “Mister Officer, the Jews murdered two Christian citizens.”

Yosef didn't panic and immediately told the officer that this could not be since we were all here for many hours in that synagogue. The officer accepted this version and yelled at the Christian man, “Get out of here! You swine! All the Jews are here. They couldn't do it.”

When this second brigade left and another arrived, trouble started. The new officer ordered us to create a Judenrat. These were the Judenrat: Josef Berkman, Josef Lubchensky, Yakov Shimon Haiklin, Leiba Zusman, Yoshua Sorcer, Y.M. Rabinovitz, Mikhail Milikovsky, Mordechai Dudman, and Bar-Mikhail Rubin. On another day, again they gathered all the Jewish people of the town in the market. The Polish militiamen kept running all over the town with the German SS from house to house and took out all who didn't come to the central location. One of them by the name of Konsky took me out of my home and to the location. There they made me join a special group. Among them was Yakov Hirsch Alishkevich. After a short time he was taken away from us and put all by himself with his hands behind his back and instead of him they brought Yitzhak Lichterman, who had a dog prior to the German entrance whom he named Hitler.

After we stood like that for many hours, we were ordered to go while we were surrounded by SS men. The group had ten people, Yitzhak Lichterman, Shimon Levin, Yitzhak Kolitschik, Leib Zalev, Barkovsky, Tzirolnik Eli, Shmuel Milikovski, Shalom Bar-Levin, Yishaiau Kaplan, and I. Once again we had to go through the town and now through Vilna St., Olshanky, Skindausky, until we arrived at Vistivich. Here was the field commandant of the brigade that was responsible for the area of Vishnevo. As soon as we entered the town we were given brooms and ordered to clean the streets of the village.

Soon we were surrounded by SS who kept beating us with rubber bats, taking sadistic pleasure in hitting us on all spots they could reach until we reached the house of Sokhlit, where the commandant had set up his headquarters. There they made us sit on the ground made us wait for our fate. For a long time we sat on the ground waiting for our punishment. In our houses we said goodbye to our living relatives, until all of a sudden there was an order to release us. All but Tzirolnik were released, but they took him to the train station in Bogdanova, and we never heard of his fate again.

When we arrived in town we found out that the Judenrat used every means they had, tried to bribe everyone who could help, and were finally able to save us from the nails of the eradicator. Despite this, there was death sentence on two of us. A few days later Shimon Levin and Itzhak Lichterman were taken to Zinigori and there they were shot. At the same time, we did find out what happened to Tzirolnik. They forced him to lift a car until he fell dead. The wives of the people who were killed, Tabel Lichterman and Marishka Levin, asked that they be brought to a Jewish burial.

A day later we approached the civil commandant, Stankovicz, and gave him a large amount of clothes and a gold watch, and he promised to go and talk to the German commandant. He went with Mordechai Dudman who was in the Jewish burial committee, and two other men from the Judenrat, and they all went to the place where they were shot behind a barn of one of the farmers of that village. Everyone stood there while Stankovicz went to the commandant, and just as he went to the commandant, a Christian boy came running to the commandant and said that the Jews came to take the bodies of the murdered. Stankovicz immediately left and told the Jews that they must leave the area immediately. But this was not the end of this episode.

On Sunday, the first of July 1941, at ten in the morning, before we were transferred to the ghetto, a wagon came near our house and a young German officer with a stocky, clumsy-looking soldier with hands that looked like a polar bear's came. Behind them followed the infamous Rishnik from Solokovishtzina. They entered our house and looked in all the rooms and then they started interrogating my father and I about whether either of us was amongst the people to take the bodies from Tsinigori. When I denied this, they started investigating me on what I had done during the Polish rule and whether I was tied to Communist activities. When I denied it, they kept pressing me to find out about my work during the Bolshevik times. I said I worked like everyone else and did what I had to do, since I had to take care of my old parents. When I said that, the soldier started beating me up with a rubber bat that he had. He was crazed, jumped on me and hit me until I was bleeding profusely. I was shocked and shaken and trying to cover my face. At one point the door was opened and Finger, who was known as the Folke Deutsche 3 and the Jewish refugee Leibl that who now the solitis of the town, both said that I was not in Tsinigori, that it was Mordechai Dudman the shoemaker who was there.

Immediately the officer ordered that Mordechai Dudman be brought here. When he was questioned by the officer while being murderously beaten by the soldiers, he confessed he was in Tsinigori. The officer said, “While thousands of young German men fall in the front on a daily basis, you care about the burial of two bloody Jewish corpses?” Mordechai answered, “We did it as the request of the wives of the two murdered men.” All through the questions and answers they kept slapping Mordechai and the others who were with him, but when they finished the investigation they let them go, except for me and Rubin Podversky, who was also brought to my house. First we were put in the wagon of Pesach Zusman, but as soon as we got out of the town's area, the officer ordered us to get off and to run behind the wagon. Four kilometers we ran behind the wagon, keeping pace with it until we arrived at Berezina. There they took us to the house of Kratkovski and the officer started interrogating him first about Ruben Podversky.

The officer: What was the line of work of this Jew during the Soviet time?

Kratkovski: He took care of the cow herds that the authorities took from the farmers.

The officer: Was he the manager?

K: No, there was another manager who would come often.

The officer: Is it true that he did some illegal business with you? Did he give you butter, eggs, and chickens for a suit?

K: God forbid! We had no monkey business.

The officer entered the room of the servants and when he returned he let Rubin go home. He was so confused; his head must have been spinning. He started, like a drunk, moving towards the exit and looking for the knob, but the soldiers just hit him on his head and kicked his behind and Rubin, who was a strong, solid man, fell on the ground in pain. On all fours, he crawled out the door.

Now the officer looked at me and started questioning Kratkovski again, who told him, “All I know is that he is a Jew from Vishnevo.”

The officer looked at him intently and said, “Let's continue.”

They continued riding while I ran behind them for another six km. I had no energy, I could hardly breathe and I fell many times until we arrived at the village of Malikovishtizina. Here the Germans went off the wagon and let Pesach return home. Then they ordered me to go ahead in the direction of Tsinigori, to the forest. I was absolutely sure that those would be my last steps, since those were the last steps of the first victims of Vishnevo. Here they were taken and here they were killed. I walked by the train station and the area was filled with Christian youths. They all seemed to be having fun and they were excited to see a miserable Jew pushed by the Hitlerian animals.

They sat there, looking at the sight, laughing. Behind me marched an officer with a gun and a soldier with a rifle, until we reached the station. Here they ordered me to enter a cargo car. They brought a saw and ordered me to cut pieces of wood into smaller pieces. It was a lovely day outside and the smell of pine trees was strong, reminding me of very different days in my past. The entire area was filled with youths who sat there and looked at the spectacle. I sat there, cutting wood. Fairly quickly my hands became swollen and I was extremely tired from all the troubles I had been through. My head was spinning, my eyes darkened, and depressed and exhausted I asked inside for death.

The officer and the soldier and another youth whom I had not met before, made me stand up and asked him if I was a Communist. The young man said, “In Russia there are 180 million souls, and only five million are Communists, so I don't think he's among them.” The officer ordered the youth to beat me up. I saw that the youth didn't really want to do it, but since he was ordered to he did it half-heartedly. He would swing his arm up filled with energy, but once it reached me, it was a very soft blow and he treated me like I was a human being.

After a short time the officer called 12 huge Christians selected specially for the duty, and said, “Beat him up.” They only waited for the chance to hit a Jew. They started beating me with everything they could get. I kept being pushed from one to the other until I fainted. Only then, as I understand, they gave them an order to stop, and they were sent out. As I understand, it was not enough for some of them, as they kept kicking me on their way out. Amongst them was Rishnik with his red eyes that I told you about before. Before the war he received 10 years of imprisonment for killing his brother, but as soon as the Germans came he was released. Through the whole time they were torturing me, the train car was opened and many, many Christians were sitting there, looking.

When I woke up I stood on my legs. I was very thirsty and I asked them for water. The answer was wild laughter. “You are asking for water? Fire you will get! Not water.” Finally two Germans with a translator and a Christian woman who told on me to the German headquarters entered. I thought that here my fate was decided. To the questions of the officer she answered, “He came to the village and was making propaganda for the Soviets. He wanted to confiscate my last cow and threatened me with deportation to Siberia.” I said that this was not true, that I was only an accountant. Here the fat German soldier started screaming to me, “Halt die schneuzer fraflochte, Jude!” (?) and he struck me on the face with his hand so hard that I thought that all my teeth had been knocked out.

Despite all my fear, I said again, I only took care of the accounting. The officer asked the Christian woman, “How did you pay your taxes?”

She said, “Not with money, but with produce. 30 kg of meat, 100 kg of potatoes, 40 kg of wheat, for a year, from a 2-hectare property.”

The officer asked, “Did he demand more than the 30 kg?”

She said, “He did not.”

“And the meat? Who took it from you?”

“We would bring it to the station at Bogdonova.”

“What were the criteria to pay for the meat? Did someone estimate the amount?”

“The notice of what we should pay was received from Volozhin.”

To my very good luck, although I did sign the papers saying how much meat she was supposed to give, and even though she was holding it in her hand, the signature was illegible so they didn't realize it was mine. The officer asked, “Who is the person who sent you these notices?”

“This job was done by special civil workers who came from Russia.”

One of the Germans was there during the investigation said at that point, “Nu das hat er dach gemzutan.” (?)

When I heard this statement, it was as if a heavy stone had been lifted from my heart. It was as if this announcement saved my life. They stopped the investigation and sent the woman on her way, and the officer approached me and said, “Nu, jude, du hast glick. Du liebes ist nacht leben.” (?) I thanked him and still feeling very sorry for myself. It was already evening when I was released, and I returned home by following the railroad tracks. As I walked I suddenly felt an awful pain in my hips, and it was clear that I had broken something. Still, I thought I must make an effort to get home somehow so I kept walking, not stopping until I got to Dviknevitz. I stood there for a minute, just on the outskirts, to rest, when all of a sudden I saw from afar four Christians running in my direction. Each one was holding some kind of tool that could be used as a weapon. One had an axe, one had a pitchfork, and the third carried a hoe. I was sure that my end was coming, when out of nowhere, a very old Christian man came along and stood between the four men and me.

He started yelling at them. “Let him alone, what did this Jew do to you? Why are you chasing him? Man, is there no God in your heart?” I used these precious few moments that were given to me to put some distance between them and me. I walked very fast without letting my awful pain stop me. It was getting really dark and I was alone in the field. I had already walked five kilometers, but I still had another five to go. I was very depressed. All of a sudden a young farmer came in my direction. As I found out, his parents were witnesses to the torture and inquisition that I went through about an hour before. He started comforting me and told me that not all of them were my enemies. Many of them felt very bad for the Jews. I thanked him and continued on my way and I must point out that when I reached Czernovicz, the first door that I knocked on was immediately opened and when they saw my state, I had to say nothing about what had happened to me. They let me in and set me down and gave me bread and milk. There I rested for a long time until I was able to continue on my way.

When I entered town it was absolutely dark. Everyone was hiding in their homes afraid of the militia that was running in the streets and would hurt every Jew they encountered. I kept looking; finally I noticed that one door was open. Toyba Gatze's (Toyba wife or daughter of Gatze). She crossed the street, running. She must have been going to her neighbor's when she noticed me, and she immediately stood and screamed in happiness. “Gdaliyau, you are alive!” I had no energy and I could hardly move. With my right hand I held my left hip where I was hurt and I was breathing very heavily. I felt that I was going to fall in the streets and I couldn't answer her. She realized my bad situation and she ran to the house of Yakov Shimon Chaiklin, to let them know about my situation.

Immediately it seemed that everyone in town found out about my situation and when finally I was able to get home, all the neighbors were waiting there for me. I fell on the bed and first my mother and then also Tabel Dudman and Marka Dem Rimerz (?) sat on my bed the entire night and kept cleaning my wounds and changing the bandages.

Still I was very worried about staying at home. I was afraid I would be arrested and tortured again, so for that reason, the next morning when my pain subsided a little bit, I moved to the house of Motayankel Die Brad's (?). There in his attic I hid for two weeks. One day when everyone around felt that things had quieted down, I came down to my house where I found that a refugee family from Lodz had moved in, as well as Chanan Oshiskin and his wife.

To my bad luck, as soon as I entered the house, Bolodovsky the hooligan entered. I just had time to jump to our attic, but he saw me jumping and he told the family, “You have spies as guests in your house!”

“No,” they said, “it's only Gdaliyau.”

“If it's only him he is allowed in town and he can come down. I won't hurt him.”

But I knew that there would be some torture so I refused to come down. Then the hooligan left and called the police. When I saw them from afar, I jumped down from the attic and into the cowshed of Yosef Leib the Tailor, who was our neighbor. There I hid in a pile of hay. Somehow they realized I was there. It must have been when I opened the gate. They kept looking in the hay and when they saw my feet they dragged me out. Once again I was imprisoned and taken to the town all the way to the Gmina. The yard of the Gmina was filled with Christians from the entire area who came to get horses and wagons that were taken from the Jews. After that there was an order that disallowed Jews from owning any kind of transportation. When I entered the office of the commandant he sent the policemen away and asked, “What happened now?”

“Nothing happened,” I said, “it's just that our house is so full of refugees that I stepped outside to rest in the hay of my neighbor. Then Bolodovsky called the police for I don't know what.”

The commandant released me but suggested I go somewhere else. I tried to go somewhere else, but as you will see, there was no place a Jew could feel safe. In Ignotzova I had very good friends like the Chaplinsky family. The sister told them about the hellish tortures that I had suffered that day from the Germans, so now they invited me to stay with them secretly. So I went on side roads until I reached their home. When I got there they suggested I go live in a farmhouse that was about 40 km west of Oshmina where the sister of Chaplisky lived. I could live with her and work for her and act as if I was an old POW. They dressed me up in farmer's clothes again. Immediately I sat in the wagon while I was driving the horse and we went on our way. I was very scared when I passed Olshany I heard the sound of shooting. Later on I found that they had killed Jews in Olshany that day, amongst them Avramovich the pharmacist who was one of the best people in our area.

Late at night we arrived at the ranch and immediately she set the table and gave the best of food, and a bundle of smogon. As soon as we sat to eat, a neighbor came by. He drank with us to life, and when he became drunk he started talking freely, saying that shortly before the Germans came he was sentenced to be sent to Siberia and here there was a miracle. When the train he was sent in arrived in Glida, part of it was blown up by the Germans, and during the panic, many of the prisoners were able to escape from the Soviets, among them himself. While I was listening to him I realized that this would not be a safe place to hide. First there was a police station only 2 km away, and on the other side there was a radar station, so this was a very dangerous place to hide. I asked my friends to take me back home the next day.

When I arrived at town we called the policeman from Vilna. In town there was a rumor that his wife was Jewish, and even some thought that this poisonous anti-Semite was a Jew. He asked me where I was coming from. I said I worked in Bogdonova and he let me go. Again I was at home in the depressing town where everywhere I had enemies. After a few days they started sending me for work in the forest. I was pretty much left alone. One day there were rumors about imprisonment and shooting to everyone who would come near the police station. Everyone started running, looking for a hideout. Shlomo Alishkevitz and I hid on the way to Boktowa. All day we lay, hiding in the bushes. When it became dark we returned home through the fields. All of a sudden we heard a voice from behind us yelling, “Halt!” We saw two wagons filled with German soldiers coming to our area. They asked us, “Who are you?” We said we were Jews.

“Where are you coming from?”

We said we worked in Zradel near the bridge. After a few more questions they let us go. Through this whole time Shlomo Alishkevitz feared that they would look through his backpack where they would discover some wool he had just bought from his Christian acquaintances. As Jews we knew that if we were caught buying or selling anything we knew we would be shot to death. On the same day, Shmerka Itzkovitz was brutally killed. He was taken behind Androvondza where they tied him to the feet of a horse and made the horse run very fast until Shmerka had broken every bone in his body.

The Ghettoes in the Area of Vishnevo

To create the ghettoes, the German authorities appointed a special committee that was named Yostitz Kommendatura. There were a few dozen soldiers and German officers on the committee. They would come to the different places and live there for a few days and during that time they would create a ghetto. They would let the Jews have two hours to go from their homes to the ghetto, which was usually in a very small area that was located in the synagogue and the houses next to it. The ghetto would immediately be surrounded by barbed wire and in the middle there would be a gate. From the outside the Polish militia would be guarding it and inside supposedly Jewish people. All these ghettoes were built with assistance from the mashtzanas, our neighbors who waited impatiently for the minute that they could enter the empty Jewish homes outside the ghetto area. This was the way it was in all the towns in our area, and this is how it was in Vishnevo.

A few days before they built the ghetto, they murdered 38 of the most respected people in town. On the same day, I worked in the station in Bogdonova as a porter transferring wood planks. The group of workers had 60 Jewish men and women amongst them. The Germans who were watching us working were very happy with our job and gave us cigarettes as a reward. As soon as the sun went down we started walking home as usual in fours, soldier-like, under a special permit. When we were already halfway home, Rivka Rodensky told us that before she left she saw two German soldiers who arrived at the workplace and ordered the manager of the train station that he must not let any Jews stay there for the night. Then they called all the other work stations and ordered the same thing. We discussed the situation and someone said, “They must want to do something to all the Jews who worked for the Soviets.” I started shaking and my brain started racing to find a solution to this situation. I realized that something must happen. I wanted to escape from the group but this was not easy to do since we were supposed to be 60 people and they would count them. When we reached the town we met with a refugee who settled in Vishnevo. He was going to the direction of Zaphnova. When we asked why he was going there he said he was bringing shovels and pickaxes there since the land was frozen, hard as rocks there.

“What are they digging?” we asked, and he said that the Germans had announced to the Judenrat that they wanted to put up three artillery positions in the area that they would use to shoot into the forests where they thought there were many Russian soldiers hiding. We didn't accept this explanation. Why, in all places, would they want to put these positions in the Jewish cemetery when there was a hill nearby? From a strategic point of view it was much better to put it on the hill than on the lower cemetery.

I decided not to go home and went to Sholomo Alishkevitz. I told his family what I had found out about the holes that were dug in the Jewish cemetery. So immediately we hid in the hay and spent the entire night there in the cold and in fear. I couldn't sleep, only early in the morning could I sleep. When I woke up, Shlomo was already gone. I took a look from the gate and when I saw no one, I stepped outside.

When I got outside I found out that in town there was panic and everyone was looking for a hideout. Shlomo went to Berashkovitz where he had a friend. Pivka of Bela's and Zisel Pertsky ran away to Berezina, and everyone found some other place to hide. I snuck into my house and put a piece of bread in my backpack. I put an axe in my belt and left for the direction of Zerbl where we used to work in the forest near Vishnevo. When I reached the area there were already some Jewish men working and I joined them in their work. Shortly after, Leiba Gatze's joined as well. When a German car passed I got nervous, but I was lucky and it passed by peacefully. When I returned to town later that night, we found out about the horrible killing that the Germans and local policemen took part in.

During the day they caught some Jews, amongst them Zelig Berkman while he was standing for his prayers dressed with his tallit and fellim. His son-in-law Moshe. Yosef Zvi Kaplan. Shalom Bar-Levin. Yakov Hirsch Alishkevitz. His son Binyamin. Yitzhak the son-in-law of ???. Isaac Podbersky. The son of Isaac. Feba Zusman. The two sons of Feba Zusman. Yishaiau Kaplan. Mordechai Ydel. Munia Zalav. Yakov Gurevich, the husband of Elisheva nee Shimshelevicz. Chaim Itzkovitz, the son of Yosef. Yishaiau Girzon. Leiba Milikovsky. Isaac Rugovin. Tzvi Rugovin. Elie Yetza. Simha, the Mute. Leib, who they found next to slaughterhouse. Chana Zusman. Baruch Podversky. Baruch Rabbinovitz. Moshe Rabbinovitz. Yakov Tzipilevich. Moshe Aron Kotler. Elie the Butcher. Markus the blacksmith. The painter. Chaim Berkovitz. Meir Yankel Podversky. Avraham Shuster. Avraham Podversky. Leibe, the son-in-law of Moshe the lemonade maker. The son of Leibe. 39 in all.

The Christian witnesses told that afterwards when they were taken to the cemetery that the holes were ready. 22 men worked digging through the night til the morning hours. The victims were put on their knees near the holes and the SS men shot them in the back and they fell in the holes. A few died on the spot but many of them were wounded and were still conscious when they were buried. One of them, some say it was Yishaiau Grizon, begged them, “Don't cover the hole, I am still alive!” Among the few that survived through the panic and the screaming that passed from the victims to the graveyards was Avraham Podversky, the son of Mordechai Feba. He was shot at, but was not hurt. He was able to break the fence near the cemetery and escape. Today he lives in the U.S. Escaping the same way were also the two sons of Leba, but they were later killed. Days after this murde,r we could still hear sounds coming from below the ground.

A few days after this awful murder we transferred to the ghetto. And if our situation until now was dark and our fate was humiliation and our lives were hanging by a thread, now our situation became even worse in the ghetto. In the few months between the transfer to the ghetto and the day of the annihilation we were isolated as if we were lepers who had a death sentence hanging over their head. Before the ghetto order we were ordered to wear a yellow tag. For two days our neighbors Menka Sokholovsky, her husband Finger, Filka the Shoemaker, and Blodovsky from Adamova came to each house and happily announced the order to wear the yellow Jewish star to be put on both the chest and on the right side of the back. They were also the main ushers on the transfer to the ghetto. They ordered the Yostevitz Kommendantura to come to Vishnevo. They came headed by Lieutenant Mooky (Moko?) the Infamous. He was the executioner who ordered the ghetto in Volozhin, Oshmina, Ivya and others. The ghetto was located in Karve street and the yard of the synagogue, and was surrounded a wooden fence and barbed wire. We were ordered to never leave the ghetto's vicinity and we were told that whoever was found walking alone outside of the ghetto vicinity would immediately be shot.

The ghetto's atmosphere was very depressing, and going to work provided a little bit of relief from the depression. I continued working in Zardl and Bogdonova. In exchange for the job I would get 200 grams of bread a day, and many times some torture and humiliation. Often when we returned from work in the evening the policemen from Zabrazy would welcome us with humiliating comments ordering us, “Cows! Stand! Lie on the ground! Get up! Run! Continue!” while our neighbors that took our homes would watch it and laugh. And the little children would throw stones at us.Once in a while our neighbor Konsky would greet us with yelling, “Sing Katyusha! Why aren't you singing Katyusha?” He now lived in the house that had belonged to Yakov Rabbinovitz.

An announcement was made just about then to send 300 Jews from Vishnevo to the labor camp in Krasne. A decision was made that first the refugees would be moved, and after them, single people from large families. The places to work near us in the Vishnevo area were in Zredl, the big mill in Boktowa, and Bogdonova.

In Bogdonowa we would carry wood to the train. 22 people were sent to Dolkenwicz to work in the flour mill. Living in the ghetto had one advantage: as soon as you went through the gates there were only Jews. We were all alone there. To compensate for all the hostility and the humiliation we suffered, we went to the synagogue and prayed and when the prayers were over we would discuss our situation.

In the ghetto there were many minyans for prayers and in the evening we would sit together and talk. I remember the minyans that were held in the house of Tova Lichterman that was named for her husband Yakov Lictherman, who was among the first Jewish victims. We would gather; amongst us were Leba Zusman, Yosef Minsk, Moshe Shimshelevitz, Yudel Gurevich, Meir Dudman, Yosef Menachem Rabbinovitz, Alter Podversky, and others who were the highest class of the town; the most educated, and for that they were named the Sanhedrin of Vishnevo.

After the evening prayer, we would gather and have a warm conversation full of dreams and prophets and deep thinking. I remember that one evening Alter Podversky talked about his prophesy about the fall of Hitler. He announced that he had found in the Bible certain passages that said the war would last 7 years and Hitler would be able to conquer most of the countries in the world under his boot and would create a big Edom-like kingdom until his day of defeat would come when he would arrive at the gates of Jerusalem. There he would be gravely defeated, and with the leftovers of his army, in a Napoleon-like manner, he would rapidly retreat to Germany with the enemy at his tail destroying his army. According to his prophesy, the end of Hitler would come when a Jewish soldier from the U.S. would find him and take him prisoner. The Germans would surrender, and Germany would be sliced into small countries the way it was prior to Bismarck.

On another evening Alter told me that according to passages in the Bible, he discovered that all the nations after the war would give Eretz Israel to the Jews and there a Jewish free state would be established. I answered him, “What are you talking about, Alter? How could that be? Who will give us a country when Hitler is controlling everything in his palm and has destroyed the seed of Israel?” Alter kept insisting that we will outlive Hitler and the nations will give us the land of Israel. “Believe me,” he said, “England and the US will help us, and also Russia will help in giving us the land of Israel. But, admittedly you will need a special kind of luck to arrive at this time, and we need patience and luck to see that day.” So like this we passed some minutes and forgot our troubles and started imagining while death was standing at our door.

One day they started bringing to Zardel trucks filled with Jews from the ghetto Karve. The Germans explained that we didn't have enough workers, but we realized that there were plenty of workers. The explanation was that they prepared new workers to replace us after they annihilated us, but at that point we didn't understand. On Saturday the 29th of August 1942, the ghetto of Volozhin was annihilated. There were a few actions prior to that date where they killed a limited number of Jews.

First, Second And Third Actions

My brother Israel Zishka Dudman, who lived in Volozhin since his marriage, attempted to escape during the first action. He wanted to get to Vishnevo. For three days he and a man from Vilna were hiding and walking in the Bombela forest between Vishnevo and Volozhin. One day they came to a large village, Tzakovishtzina, and they entered into the house of Smolirnik and asked for some bread and water. Smolirnik didn't even give an answer; he ran and called the policeman in the village. They immediately took them to the SS people who brought them to the Gmina in Vishnevo. From there they were returned to Volozhin by the SS men who took them to the synagogue and executed them.

On Saturday at the end of August, most of the Jewish workers received a vacation from all the working places and returned home. This was a planned vacation because a day later, all the Jewish people of Vishnevo were murdered. The day of Sunday, the 17th of the month Alul, of the year Taf Shin Bet. On Sunday morning we woke up as usual and waited for the other Jews to come from the town to go to work when all of a sudden a Christian woman came and whispered to the girls among us that something horrible was happening in town. Our group had five people. Two men, Berl Stoller (today his name is Dov Gordon and lives in Petach Tikva) and myself, as well as three girls, Shaina Zelda Avramovich who was killed as a partisan, Motaleh Halperin, and Minka Milkovsky who is now married to Noah Podversky and lives in the States. To make sure that what we heard was true, we decided that I should get a permission to go to Bogdonova to find information from the Jews of Kerve, who we knew went through Vishnevo to get to their workplace to Bogdonova. So I went to the office that was located in a house made of blocks on the other side of the train tracks, but I found it empty except for one German guard who was walking around the house. I asked where the officer was, he turned to me and looked at me in a very strange and knowing look and answered, “He's not here.” I decided to go anyway and when I left, I saw from afar a wagon with three Christians who came from Vishnevo.

As soon as they saw me they waved to me making a gesture that I should stop. When they finally reached me they said to me, “Dudman, you must run away. The town is black. They shot and burned everyone.” I returned to my friends and told them what I had learned from the Christians. We sat on the ground and cried like little children until two dear acquaintances came to us. It was the Slodarsky brothers, Jank and Stefan. They warned us that we must not stay because the Germans would look for us as soon as they realized we were not on the list of people killed. I said to them, “Where should we go, our friends? The entire world is like one big gallows for us.”

First the brothers suggested, “You must escape from here while you can. We suggest you go to our relatives to the family Slavonika. They are located at the edge of the forest not far from here, and we will keep in touch with you.”

We listened to them and followed them to the Slavonika house at the edge of the Vishnevo puszcza4 . They knew us as workers from the forest and thus they didn't ask why we had come. Through the night we heard the sounds of gunfire in the town. Early in the morning we saw Noah Podversky running in the direction of Vojgan. We stopped him and asked him to tell of everything that had happened the day before in town. He said that during the night before, the SS had surrounded the ghetto and early on Sunday morning there was an order for everyone to pack all their stuff and to stand by their house because of a decision to transfer all the Jews to their work places. When everyone stood with packages and ready to go, the SS men with whips in their hands, started pushing everyone to the yard of the synagogue. But, Noah told us, not everyone went as lambs to the slaughter. Batia Podversky jumped out of the car that was taking her to the killing field and yelled, “Jews, save your selves!” Someone shot her and she fell dead where she had stood, but when people heard her they started running to the fields. Almost everyone was shot and killed and the fields were covered by bodies all the way to the forest. (When we returned to town after the end of the war we still saw the bones spread all through the fields.) Amongst the few who survived was Noah. He hid in the fields amongst the unharvested crops and survived. As soon as it was dark, he decided to leave his hiding place, and ran to Vojgany. We asked our hostess to bring three other Jewish girls who were hiding somewhere else, so now we were six people, three men and three girls. We sat in the house of our hostess for that day and we decided that the next evening we would continue on our way.

Meanwhile her daughter baked us bread, and also the old lady baked some things for us. We took the bread in two big bundles. They also gave us some eggs and one and a half kilos of butter and a few clothes that they had found in their house. Coincidentally I found in their house a pair of tefillin. The neighbor had used them to tie his shoes. I was very happy as if I had found a kameya, and I guarded them as if they were good luck charms through my whole wandering in the woods.

When night came we started on our fateful journey. Through the entire night we trudged through the thick and tall grass in the forests. We stepped on fallen branches and piles of leaves and we became wet from the puddles until we were soaked to the bone. Like this we passed a path of 30 km. We were extremely tired when the sky showed its first light. When it got a little later, we realized we were in a white ocean of morning dew. It was on all the grass and the Berezina River. At that point we heard the sound of the rooster. Immediately we realized we were in a settled place and when there was more light we saw an isolated house surrounded by a marsh. Four stayed in the spot, and I with Stoller crossed the marsh and arrived at the house.

The Christian we met was known to us and very pleasant. He returned with us to the other four people to bring them in. He let us know that in the entire area there were no police, no soldiers and no Germans. We could stay there in peace safe from the fear of the enemy. He turned on the fire in the oven so we could dry our clothes. It took the entire day and night to dry them. Meanwhile they baked potatoes for us and we sat around the table and they gave us milk. We ate and then we went to sleep. The next day we continued on our way until we got to the house of Smukvest, which was also situated in the puszcza in the Vishnevo forest. He was our friend. When we arrived there they were just getting ready to eat their breakfast. As soon as they saw us, the woman and her children started crying. “Ach vej milinky siraty maij” which means “Our poor, poor orphans!” The Christian woman deeply cried for our fate.

When we saw them crying we felt sorry for ourselves, and we started crying. Our hearts that were frozen the last night were finally able to open and feel the gravity of our loss. They fed us and promised that if we stayed there nothing bad would happen. Here everything is quiet they said, stay among us. But we wished to go far into the forest, far away from people. We wanted to go into the deepest of the forest that spread hundreds of kilometers' distance where we felt we could find shelter for our nerves after all the disasters we had experienced.

So this is how it was. After a while we left our fears behind us and we became one with all the trees whose hands reached up to heaven. We walked amongst them as if we had never known another home, as if we had been born here. After years of depression, torture and fear, where the life of a Jew was worth less than the life of a dog, all of a sudden we felt freedom. Here the eternal enemies of our souls, our Christian neighbors who fooled around shamefully and drunkenly in plain view of all, on the porches of our homes that they had stolen from us after we were forced into the ghetto – they were not to be seen here in the forest. For the first time in a long time we felt good, like prisoners who had been released from their cells and had returned to their homes in the midst of the state of the forest that now belonged to us.

At this point we didn't know what our fates would be, we didn't know what conditions our lives would have, and we still hadn't met with the partisans. We deeply wished to meet the partisans. The graves of our beloved were still fresh. The embers of the fire in which our beloved were burned were still whispering to us, but these memories sustained us. We had one wish left with us, and this was for revenge for the blood that was spilled. But until we arrived at that day when we could actually avenge their deaths, there was still a long time. Meanwhile days of winter came and the forest was covered with snow. We had to prepare food and build shelter and we knew that to join the partisans we would need weapons.

After some discussion we went to visit our Christian friend in Daviknovitz and Vojgany. We walked for the entire night and in the morning we arrived at the house of the three brothers: Alex, Albert and Stefan Seldnisky, the ones who encouraged us to escape to the forest. They received us with great happiness. They hugged and kissed us. They lay out on the table blini, milk, butter, cheese and plenty of alcohol. After many months in the forest, for the first time we had a lot of food to eat. We rested and washed and changed underwear and felt like civilized people again.

Here we had a surprise. Just before we were getting ready to go to the forest, the old man, the father-in-law of one of the brothers, took out from a hiding place an old, old rifle from the days of Nikolai II. Also he took out a Nagan and three bullets. He gave it all to us as a gift and said, “Take it. You might need it, and with these you will be a little safer.” This was a good beginning. Later on these weapons impressed everyone who met us on our way. We would knock on the doors of villagers in the middle of the night, and when they came down from the bed to open the door and saw the weapons in our hands, it would soften them and they would give us whatever we asked for: bread, clothes, and sometimes even weapons or information that we needed. Seldinisky also told us about someone who had the Dasiyatzka, an automatic rifle that shot ten bullets one after the other, and then you could reload it with a magazine of another ten bullets. When we came to the man he was very stubborn and he would only give us his automatic rifle for eight sacks of flour.

During that night we knocked on the door of one of the wealthiest schlachtas in the Vishnevo puszcza. As soon as he opened the door and saw the rifle he became very generous and said, “I would give you the flour happily but the Germans were here and they took everything.” So we ordered him to open his barns but they were empty. But while we looked there we saw a slaughtered pig that was already salted hanging in one of the corners of the barn. Since the schlachta begged us we left him with half of the pig, which he thanked us for.

After a long search we found flour in one of the storehouses and we ordered him to give us eight sacks of flour, which he would carry in a wagon to a place where we told him. He did this and we exchanged the sacks of flour for the weapon. So this beginning encouraged us and told us how to conduct ourselves in this dark world we found ourselves in. We had one rule: we must not be scared. In the entire area of the Vishnevan puszcza all became acquainted with the Jewish partisans, and more than one shook from fear of our revenge. And this was really our aim. For this day of revenge we stayed alive.

One night we walked by the train tracks near the Vojgany station and we arrived at the house of our friend Y.S. There we saw one of the Jewish Vishnevan men, Kokin, the one who was able to escape from the Germans on the day of the Vishnevo annihilation. He now lived in the house of Y.S. in Vojgany. He lived in this house of the Christian men for a few months at this point and was a teacher to their children. He had an Aryan passport with the name of Alexandrovich. He had a huge mustache that came up to his ears, and he looked like a very proud schlachta. We asked that he join us, but his Christian boss asked he stay till the snow melted. The second time we came along. Kokin left the house of his benefactor with us. This Christian man became one of our dear beloved friends, a friend of heart and soul. He assisted us through the whole time when we were in the Vishnevan puszcza. Once one of our Jewish girls became pregnant by a Russian partisan. We brought her to our friend in Vojgany and he transferred her to Doctor Bernitsky Destrovilcz, who was across the train tracks. He took fatherly care of her and when she was ready brought her to Israel. He returned her to us through our friends.

One day we asked our friend to transfer a letter to the Olshany ghetto to a friend of ours, Shavtai Avramovich. We asked him to let all the Jews of Olshany know about the annihilation of the Jewish community in Vishnevo. I also gave detailed information and names of all the people who survived in different ways and now were in the forest, and I suggested and begged them to come to us. We never received an answer. In the same way I was able to transfer a letter to the ghetto in Oshmina for our friend Yudit Heichlin.

For some reason she ignored our plea and she perished with all the Jews of Oshmina, but she still told others about our plea and 31 men escaped and came to us in the forest. From them I remembered the names of Leibowicz, Dr. Dalinsky from Olshany who is today in Israel, the lawyer Mazursky who was originally from Lodz and later was killed as a member of the Pravo Majisk (?) partisans fighting the Germans, Rogozin, Max Petasznik and his wife Anna (both are in the US), Josef Petasznik (now in Holon, Israel), and Leza Rabbinovitz who lives today in Petatikva. The other names I don't remember anymore.

In the forest there were thousands of Russian soldiers, some deserters, and others who got lost during the retreat. Many of them now worked for the farmers in the area. All of a sudden there was an announcement by the German authorities that all the former Russian soldiers must come register for the census. Thousands of them did show up and were put in labor camps for prisoners. There was one such prison labor camp for Russian POWs in Molodetszno where they had 25,000 prisoners. Most of them died of starvation or infection.

Many of the Russians did not do as they were ordered. They didn't come for the census and they ran to the forest, where they now organized themselves as partisans and connected with the Red Army. The Red Army sent officers and now they were organized into full divisions, almost like a regular army operating behind the front lines. Now they actively fought the German enemy. As the youths in the ghetto became more and more despondent, a few of them were able to find a way to the partisans, and this was our way too. First on our mind was to join the partisans. Added to the Jews from Oshmany there were some Jews who had escaped from Branowicz. So now, together with the Vishnevans were a unit of 50 people. The winter was coming and we had to take care of food and supplies for all of them. In different ways we were able to do this.

In one episode that we called the Boot Action, ten men, nine Jews amongst them including Kokin and me, and a Russian partisan by the name of Vanka, who belonged to the brigade of Tchaklov, were sent to Zaphnova to destroy a water tower. On the way we went to a friend of ours in Zaphnova and we found out that near the water tower there was a troop of Germans and we should not think of putting any explosives at the tower.

Meanwhile, morning came so we decided to continue to Vishnevo to take boots; we had found that there were no police in Vishnevo since the 200 Ukrainians who worked there after the burning of the ghetto had left to Boktowa. So some of our people stayed in Zaphnova and two stood in the main road that led to the bridge near the flour mill, and I with the Russian partisan Vanka, went by the Vishnevan church thinking that while they were praying we might be able to catch some who had actively joined in the killing of the Jews of Vishnevo. On the way we saw many farmers who came from the area by foot or by other transportation to the church as they always did. So we chose the best horse we saw and took him from a Christian and quickly rode to the church.

When we arrived there and checked the people we realized that the ones we were looking for didn't arrive that day because they were fearful of the partisans. So we sat there waiting for the prayer to end. When it ended we stood a the entrance of the church with two guns in our hands, and everyone who had new boots on their feet was asked to go to the house of the organist where they were ordered to take off their boots. Since they were all fearful of our guns they happily let go of their boots. We collected ten pairs of new boots and rapidly left for the forest.

Shortly after we took care of our food supplies and clothing, we started taking care of weapons. We moved to Baksht near the Berezina River and we found out from the Christians who lived here that the retreating Russians had thrown away a lot of weapons in the area. The farmers in the area promised to take out of the river all of the weapons in exchange for salt, which was very hard to find these days. So we went to some wealthy farmers and we were easily able to get salt when they saw our weapons. In exchange for the salt we received rifles and bullets from the Christians who lived near the river.

In the area of Baksht we met Storitzky, the commander of the Fourth Battalion from the Brigade named Tchaklov. When we asked to join him he accepted us happily. He spread our people amongst all the battalions of the brigade. After some training they started sending us on sabotage missions in the army camps. We would derail trains, destroy bridges, and put explosives on trains. I joined a group with one Subaszhi, and three Poles from the area of Molodetszno, Poloczen, and Horodok. Our first mission with this battalion was in the area of Poloczen. We were ordered to put explosives on a train that went through the front in Moscow. We put the explosives in a place between a village and a German checkpoint. To get to this locality we had to cross the river and there was only one piece of wood on it to cross over. That night there was a huge party in the village and the Germans got drunk and danced all night with the village girls.

It was a very cold night and we crawled to remain unseen until our arrival. And here we lay in the snow almost the entire night. Only early in the morning did we hear the train approach, then we put explosives on the tracks and ran 100 m from the area. About half an hour we waited until we heard a huge explosion. Immediately the Germans lit up the area with searchlights, while we were retreating across the river, crawling over the piece of wood and running into the forest. Later on we found out that this was a very destructive explosion. Eight cars full of soldiers and two engine cars all filled with people flew into the air. They gave us ten days to do this action and on the tenth day we returned and everyone came running to us in happiness.

My second mission with this group was in the station of Yutishky. Here we put explosives in the water tower and the well. This was in the year 1943. Later on I took part in the killing of the Vishnevan collaborators and the burning of Vishnevo. All these actions had one aim: to get revenge on the enemy.

Meanwhile the famous blockade against the partisans started. 80,000 German soldiers were organized specially to fight the partisans. They marched into the forests attempting to surround and kill us. When we realized they were approaching we started to retreat into the forest. We first met them and started heavy battles in which our comrades were killed, but they didn't achieve their aim. At the end they had to retreat, since the forest was not the kind of place for their sort of war. As revenge for their failure they burned all the ranches near the forest, knowing that we used these ranches for food.

The Relations Between Russian Partisans And The Jews

All through the time when we were with the Russian partisans, we felt some hostility from the Russians, especially from Storitzky. As an example, one day when I returned with my squad to the camp after two weeks of action, I was immediately ordered to go with another squad for more sabotage missions without even a day of rest. I talked to Storitzky and after explaining my situation he cancelled his order but still sent me with a group of Jews (only Jews) to a guard post at the edge of the woods that was very dangerous since it was an open area and the enemy was nearby and looking for partisans. We clearly knew that this order was made out of an animosity that was deeply rooted in the soul of this Christian man. From the same kind of feeling we know that one night, our friend, the Jewish partisan Tuvya Sholiovsky, the brother of David, was shot by the hand of Storitzky when he found Tuvya falling asleep in his guard post. Tuvya was a very good guy, brave and courageous fighter and it was very clear that animosity and anti-Semitism were the only reasons for his death as a “criminal” because he was free of all guilt. One day we found out from Max Petasznik that near our brigade there was a purely Jewish brigade of the Bilsky brothers, and also we found out about a Jewish brigade with 600 Jewish partisans from Minsk headed by Zurin. Immediately we decided we must transfer to the brigade of the Bilsky brothers.

We had many conversations about how to make this a reality, and finally we found a way. One morning we went to the headquarters of the brigade to fix a watch because there was a Jewish watchmaker there. When Storitzky found out we went to the Bilsky brigade he was very angry, thinking that we had complained about him there. He sent a messenger saying we must come to him immediately. Storitzky asked why we visited there and asked whom we met. We said we simply went to fix the watch and we only met the watchmaker. He said, “Okay, then you are free to go.”

I decided to use this time to transfer and told him a tale of my 13-year-old niece who was with the Bielsky brothers and said, “I must ask your permission to go there since I must bring the girl to live with us.”

He said no, that we couldn't have a girl with us, so I told him the story of Vishnevo's destruction and that she was the last relative I had. Since he would not let me take her here, he would have to let me transfer there. To my surprise he listened and said, “Tavarish, Dudman. Go to the Bielsky brohters and your only family member.” After I begged he let me take Kokin with me.

The Bielsky Brother Brigade

They were at the puszcza in the Naliboky forest that was about 10 km away from us. This was during the end of the winter of 1942. The main actions were not fighting the Germans; instead all they aimed for was to survive until days of peace and all they took care of was supplying food and clothing for the Jewish people. I must emphasize they were very successful in their mission. They had many professional people and only by their hands they built a business of making shoes and became the main suppliers of boots and shoes for the partisan brigades in the forest. They also made a business of making some kind of alcohol from potatoes that were plentiful in the area. They also had a sausage factory. There were hundreds of families with wives and children that were miraculously saved from certain death in the ghettoes. Somehow they were able to connect to the people in the puszcza and here they lived quietly and supplied the families zamlinka (homes built in the ground?) that had heating facilities inside. When we arrived there, we were added to the professional people and did whatever the people in the camp needed.

Supplemental Notes:

From Charles Straczinski:

1 Cooperative restaurant. Return

2 Polish veterans who had been given grants of land. Return

3 He was of German descent. Return

4 A swamp-like area, heavily covered in moss and thickly wooded areas. Return

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