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[Page 90]

How it was laid waste


Cry out from every grain of sand, from under every stone,
Cry out from every speck of dust, from every flame, from every puff of smoke.
It is your blood and sap, it is the marrow from your bones,
It is your body and life! Cry out, cry out loud!

Cry out from the intestines of wild animals in the forest, from fish in the river.
They have eaten you. Cry out from every lime-kiln. Cry out, large and small.
I want a great clamour, a lament, a shout. I want to hear your voice.
Cry, murdered Jewish people, cry out!

My people, reveal yourselves to me, stretch out your hands
From graves, deep, miles long, packed tight,
Layer upon layer, covered with lime and burned.
Come up, come up! Climb out of the deepest, bottom-most layer.

Come all of you, drowned, crushed, dismembered, come, show yourselves,
In a convoy, a great circle around me, a huge ring –
Grandfathers, grandmothers, mothers with babes in the womb.
Come, Jewish bones, from powder, from pieces of soap.

From 'The Song of the Murdered Jewish People'
by Icchak Kacenelson (Itzhak Katzenelson)[341]


  1. cf. Lamentations of Jeremiah return

[Page 91]


Land of Polessia, landscape of my childhood, how have you been bereaved? How did such a terrible thing happen? How will you rest on the open spaces of your ponds and meadows, and my people are no longer, no longer among you? Through tears the heart sees your grief-stricken paths and your abandoned dwelling-places and it scans the horizon for a soul from Israel. The heart knocks on the houses of your shtetls, but there is no sound and no answer. Only the wind answers it from afar, the wind that says Kaddish[343] in the willows by the stream in the land of my childhood.

Polessia, desolate region, you raised generations of Jews for the Torah and for toil. In your low-lying villages the blacksmiths, sons of Jacob, struck with their heavy hammers and shod horses. Good, patient craftsmen laboured in your tiny shtetls. In their sorrow they elevated your poor land and illuminated your open spaces with their longing for the Saviour.

Polessia, where my people lived a wretched life, where they knew poverty and solitude and the Goy's hatred. But in their soul shone an eternal light. And this light of their soul cast light on the darkness of your dense forests, and the trunk of my tree was carried, yearning, day and night on rafts along your calm rivers. Then Polessia, in your paths sons and daughters of Israel will arise and follow the dream, to toil in a far-off land. From the fires at sunset in your meadows they draw longing for that which is far away and beautiful. In your fields they listen to the voice of Zion in the song of the rye and the spelt. And as they stand on your borders to part from you for ever they took with them the fruitful sorrow resting in your ample bosom and kissed the dear childhood that remained sealed on the banks of your lakes.

How have you been bereaved of my people? How? How did you not conceal them all in secret places in your forests? How did you stand by passively and not open up the broad swamps to swallow all the murderers? How is it that you did not protect your Jews, who always perfumed your air with the fragrance of Sabbath, who warmed your autumn with the eternal hymns of the soul?

How? How? How, land of my childhood, will you speak to me from afar?

  Y. Rabinov[344]


  1. cf. Lamentations of Jeremiah return
  2. Prayer for the dead return
  3. Born 1904 in Pinsk, emigrated to Eretz Israel in 1925, became a member of kibbutz Gevat (Central Israel) and died in 2000 return

[Page 92]

Destruction of Vysotsk

During the period of Soviet rule

The shtetl, our shtetl of Vysotsk, lying as it does off the beaten track, far from the railway and main roads, barely felt the early days of the German-Polish war. Life continued on its usual course. But when, in accordance with the Soviet-German pact, the region passed without much ado over to Soviet rule the situation in the shtetl changed fundamentally. The language of instruction in the state school immediately changed to Russian, and after a short time the old teachers were also changed in favour of new teachers loyal to the new regime.

The situation of the Jews in the shtetl did not deteriorate; on the contrary, the blatant anti-semitism that had grown stronger in the preceding years disappeared completely. Petty trade, even though officially stopped, continued to take place, although it was hard to obtain certain goods.

Many refugees arrived from the regions occupied by the Germans. The Soviet authorities in the shtetl welcomed them and treated them well. However after a little while they were sent away from the shtetl into Russia. Bit by bit life settled down. It seemed it was also going to be possible to live with the new Soviet regime.

My father who, during the period of Polish rule, had worked hard as a builder moving from village to village in the surrounding area, was made responsible by the new regime for the only cafe in the shtetl. He was very successful in his new role.

My brother Feybl and my sister Eydl worked, earning good wages. My younger brother and I continued to study, but only in the state school, because in the meantime the chadorim, that had provided a Jewish education, had folded.

Itzhok Yakhnyuk (1918)


Our situation was therefore not bad. It remained like this until 22 July 1941, the day on which the war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany broke out.

Not many days had passed from the outbreak of the Soviet-German war before the Russians began to leave the shtetl. I felt there was a great misfortune hovering over our heads. The Russians did in fact ask us to join them when they retreated into Russia. Although the roads were already impassable and difficult it was still possible to get out and reach Russia. But only a few did this. The majority of the inhabitants of the shtetl remained where they were, whether because of the fear of being refugees or whether because they were used to routine and did not show sufficient courage to venture beyond the life they were used to.

It seemed that life would continue somehow or other. People looked at each other and learned from each other. In particular they drew lessons from the refugees who had come to the shtetl from the regions occupied by the Germans in the first days of the war – and didn't run away. They came to the conclusion that if these people, who knew the Germans, were not running away why should they? Moreover, these refugees would receive reassuring letters, letters expressing hope and certainty, from relatives who had been in the area under German rule since 1939.

Of course it became clear later that these letters had been written under pressure from the Germans, with the prime purpose of influencing the Jews to stay

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put. Apart from that, nobody dreamed of the threatening horrors and slaughter. We certainly feared punishment because of collaboration with the Soviets. But mass slaughter of Jews, such as that which came and raged over us, how could the human imagination foresee this?

As a consequence the Jews did not run away when the Russians left. My brother Feybl, who was then 20, did in fact go with the Russians but several days later came back to the shtetl and his parents' home.


During the Nazi occupation

The arrival of the Germans was felt immediately by the Jewish population of the shtetl. The 'Goys', residents of the shtetl - even those who were confirmed communists - immediately changed their spots, provoking and attacking their Jewish neighbours. Indeed, as has been said, with the shtetl being far from the main roads, the combatant armies did not cross its path, and therefore the shtetl did not experience - especially in the first days of the war - the killings, pogroms and plunder experienced by the other shtetls near the front line. In addition to that, many refugees from shtetls in the surrounding area were concentrated in the shtetl. They had found sanctuary and refuge there from the persecution and the pressures in their home towns and villages. In these circumstances the Jews of the shtetl foolishly thought that what had happened in the other shtetls of the region 'won't happen to us, the 'Goys' here are better. Here there's no cause for violence or acts of hatred. Here it will be different.'

When German rule was established in the shtetl representatives of the Jews were summoned to the authorities. In the absence of an official representative Asher Khayat went to them. Via him the first decrees were brought to the Jews: a poll tax - a large sum, around 50-60,000 roubles. This had to be handed over to the German authorities within a few days. Asher Khayat tried to plead for more time to find the money, thereby making the punishment more severe: the money was to be handed over to the authorities within three days, otherwise twenty prominent Jews of the shtetl would be killed. They were gripped by panic, but the amount was collected and handed over to the German authorities at the appointed time.

Day after day new decrees poured down on the heads of the Jews of the shtetl. Every day there were fresh misfortunes. All the Jews, starting from the age of twelve, were obliged to wear identification marks on their clothes. First of all it was a white band with the word Jude and after that two yellow patches, one in front on the chest and the other behind in the middle of the back, so they could identify the Jew from afar and from every side and direction.

Attacks on Jews passing innocently along the road and burglary of Jewish homes became regular events, so much so that one did not pay any attention to them. The schools were closed to Jewish children. Trade ceased almost completely. Basic provisions were impossible to get. When you managed to get hold of something it was certainly only by means of simple barter – one item for another. Some things were scarce, in particular paraffin for lighting and salt for cooking.

In general Jews were forbidden to go out of the shtetl. They could only go out of the shtetl with a special permit which was difficult to obtain. Every Jew from the age of twelve was obliged to do public work for a number of days in the month. The work consisted of digging trenches outside the shtetl, repairing roads etc.

I looked older than my age and would go off for work instead of my mother or sister of blessed memory. With the inspector, who came from the local 'Goys' and who loved a tipple, we found roads that needed work done on them. In exchange for some drinks that we used to bring him he would turn a blind eye to our work.

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We went off for work in a group, in columns, with spades on our shoulders for digging. We were forced to sing, in Russian, the song beginning with these words: 'Who is the war because of? The war is because of the Jews!' The Germans constantly rubbed our noses in the fact that the war had broken out 'because of the Jews'. One day the Jews were ordered to nominate representatives to represent them on a permanent basis in their dealings with the authorities. This is how Itzhok Goldberg was chosen as head of the Jewish community in the shtetl. Linked to him were officials and Jewish policemen who made sure orders from the authorities were carried out precisely and in detail.

The policemen would go around with clubs keeping order. Sometimes it even happened that a Jewish policeman hit his brother for refusing to carry out an order and so on. It has to be admitted that there were many who jumped at the role of policing because they were free to go in and out of the shtetl without a permit. They would also receive larger rations of food.

Occasionally, on all sorts of pretexts, the Germans would impose fines on the Jews and, using various ways and means, would also extort objects of value like silver, fur coats etc. On one occasion an order was issued to hand over to the Germans all the silver objects belonging to the Jews. So all the silver objects, like candlesticks, cups and such like that were in the Jewish homes and that had been handed down from generation to generation were handed over to the Germans in one go.

The winter of 1942 was extremely harsh. The Germans, who were also suffering many losses on the Russian front because of the extreme cold, decreed that the Jews should hand over to them all the fur coats in their possession. The order was carried out with the help of the Jewish policemen.

The situation became more and more harsh until it was unbearable. We hoped for change, for help, but did not know where it would come from. The Russians were far away. 'The second front' was not even on the horizon. Then eyes turned towards heaven… Only God would have mercy. Belief in God above gathered strength, and the people were more strict in observing the commandments, they visited the synagogue more often and prayers multiplied to God in heaven above that he would help them get through the difficult days somehow or other.

Foodstuff became more and more scarce. The stock of food that had been collected in every Jewish home became smaller until it disappeared. They would eat the meagre rations they received from the authorities. It seems to me that was 200 grams of bread per day per person.


The Ghetto

The boundary of the ghetto, for all the Jews, covered around half of the Jewish houses. Into it were packed all the Jews of the shtetl, including the refugees from outside who had gathered in the shtetl. Each liquidation of a ghetto in the surrounding area would bring new refugees to the shtetl, fleeing the slaughter in their shtetls and going anywhere where 'peace' still reigned. And so they also came to our shtetl. As a consequence the conditions in the ghetto and in every single house were extremely cramped. The ghetto was closed in by a high fence and hemmed in by barbed wire, with two gates, at the entrance and at the exit.

Inside the ghetto the situation deteriorated from day to day. Food rations became smaller, the congestion was dreadful. Infectious diseases like typhus etc. broke out, and it was a real miracle the people didn't die. Sick people went around like shadows. It seemed they were all waiting to die together. Going out of the ghetto with a permit became ever more difficult; only with the help of a bribe to the

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guards on the gates was it possible sometimes to sneak out. Inside the fence the guards were Jews and outside the fence they were 'Goys'.

During the whole period of the ghetto there were in all five or six Germans in the shtetl. They were in charge of the authority in the shtetl. Under their command was a police force of 100 to 150 Ukrainians and White Russians, residents of the shtetl and the surrounding area. I remember that I did indeed hear the Jews whispering secretly and preparing for an uprising. They even began to collect weapons in secret, but for some reason it did not reach open confrontation with the authorities.

One after another rumours spread concerning slaughter of Jews being carried out by the Germans. In August 1942 rumours reached us about the killing of Jews in many nearby towns and shtetls. There was a widespread rumour that Hitler had ordered the liquidation of the Jews in the whole of Ukraine and White Russia by September 1942, and rumours in fact reached us concerning the slaughter of Jews in the surrounding areas. We heard about the liquidation of the Jews of Rovne, Sarny, Dombrovitze, Rokitne and other shtetls. They were therefore getting near us.

We guessed that following the murder of Jews in Dombrovitze it would be our turn, but for some reason we comforted ourselves that misfortune would leap over us. The Germans themselves reassured us, saying that the liquidation order applied only to the Jews of Ukraine and that because we were residents of White Russia no harm would befall us.

Two weeks had in fact passed since the liquidation of the Jews of Dombrovitze, and still we were alive… This meant – so we in the shtetl began to believe - that everything would pass by peacefully.


The Slaughter

In the middle of the month of Elul[345] in the year 5702 [1942], two weeks before the slaughter, a rumour spread in the shtetl that they were digging large pits outside the shtetl at the end of the Podvysoche road. We saw before us the Shoah approaching. These pits were for us. There was panic in the shtetl. The head of the community was sent to the authorities to clarify what it meant. In their diabolical deceitfulness they knew how to confuse and calm our turbulent hearts. 'The pits', they said, 'are being dug for military purposes…' Our spirits calmed down a little. People wanted to believe that that was indeed the case, but in our heart of hearts we knew the bitter end was approaching.

In our houses a small bundle was prepared for everyone. In it were food and clothes, necessities for the journey in case we managed to escape. Two days before the slaughter, with the constant rumours concerning the approaching slaughter, our family slept one night outside the ghetto at the house of a 'Goy' we knew. The next morning we returned home. We all felt that the end was nigh. Despite that we hoped that a miracle would happen… Many people handed over the valuables they had at home to 'Goy' acquaintances for safe keeping in order that they would return them when the time came. The New Year festival approached but we did not feel its approach. The days were awful[346] enough without that.

And in fact two days before New Year, Wednesday, the 27th day of Elul 5702 [9 September 1942], came the fateful day. That night, on the Wednesday morning, we were woken up by the sound of unusual shots. Fear and panic gripped us. At the break of dawn we saw the unthinkable: the whole ghetto was surrounded by armed

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policemen standing at a distance of about twenty metres from one another, making sure nobody sneaked off through the barbed wire fence.

The order was given for us all to assemble in the centre of the ghetto. The policemen carrying out the work were mostly from outside the shtetl. They burst into people's homes shooting to kill, killing men and young people in particular.

Our family, which had always been very careful not to be split up, found ourselves separated in the chaos. We lost sight of my father and my brother Feybl. It seems they were killed inside the ghetto by shots from the Ukrainian policemen. My mother, my sister, my younger brother and I linked arms and walked together to the square, the centre of the ghetto, where everybody was assembled on the order of the policemen. This was opposite the post office in the house of Dovid Shtoper.

It is impossible to describe the confusion among those gathered in this place. Wailing, women crying and shouting, children and old people joining in the terrible wailing. I sensed what was going to happen soon, but my heart turned to stone and I did not shed a tear. My mother cried and wailed terribly, like all the mothers who were terrified and crying.

The Germans passed through the crowd. Anyone who did not obey their order was killed on the spot. On their orders those who had been rounded up had to kneel in row after row. They were also forced to empty their pockets, take off their outer garments and pray to the Almighty. From there they separated the people into groups. Each group, accompanied by armed policemen, following the route of the previous one, in the direction of the Podvysoche road.

About half an hour passed since the first group left. Then the order was given to the second group to move. My family, myself among them, was in this group. There were several hundred people. The majority were old people, women and children; there were not many young men in the group. When we left the ghetto and came to the 'Goy' road I saw a spectacle that I shall never forget: anticipating our exit from the ghetto, the 'Goys' were standing in the doorways of their houses with sacks in their hands, ready to loot.

We walked in rows, carts travelling in front of us. It seemed this was in order to collect our clothes and any objects we had with us. As I found out later, those who were to die had to remove their clothes before going into the pits. In front of us, at the head of the column, went three armed Germans, and behind us came the Ukrainian policemen, armed with rifles. In all, those accompanying and supervising the death column amounted to about twenty to thirty people.

And so we wound our way along the Podvysoche road until suddenly confusion spread among the column. Shouts of 'Hurrah' were heard. Many people began running in all directions. I was among them. After some minutes of confusion and flight I found myself lying on the ground by the cowshed in a farmer's yard. I knew I must not linger. I got up and ran towards the river Horyn, a few hundred metres away from the yard where I had been lying. As I was fleeing I encountered several other Jews running in the same direction, with the policemen running after us and shooting at us.

We reached the river. I was very frightened because I was not a strong swimmer, and the river at the spot we had reached was deep, with turbulent whirlpools. But there was no time for doubts or thoughts, for the bullets from those pursuing us were whistling over our heads. I jumped into the river and began to swim.

Around me swirled panic and dread. All those who succeeded in their attempt to reach the banks of the river alive jumped in. Those who did not know how to swim also jumped in and drowned in the water, screaming and wailing. The policemen continued shooting into the river at those swimming. Many were hit and

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drowned. Luck smiled on me and I swam across the river to the other side. I continued running towards the nearby forest, the policemen's bullets whistling over my head.

The policemen crossed the river in boats and continued shooting as they pursued us. We were a group of about twenty to twenty-five people, men, women and children. (By the way, apart from myself not one of them was from Vysotsk itself) We got further away, going deeper into the forest, heading for the villages in the vicinity, although without any knowledge of where or for what, except that we were hungry, barefoot, without clothes and wet and naturally looking for shelter.

On the way we split up into two groups, each going in a different direction: one in the direction of Stolin and the second, of which I was a part, in the direction of the village of Zhidin[347]. We walked all that day and night, hungry and suffering from the cold. The next day we sat down in the afternoon to rest round a bonfire which we lit in order to roast potatoes we had found in fields on the way and to dry our wet clothes.

We were sitting, tired and aching bitterly, when suddenly shouts of 'Stand up!' split the air. To our astonishment we were surrounded by policemen. I took to my heels and fled. A policeman from the gang pursued me shouting 'Stop!' and firing at me. I ran as long as I had the strength until I sensed that the policeman had stopped pursuing me, although he continued to shoot constantly until the shots could no longer be heard. I found myself alone in the middle of the forest, barefoot and without upper clothes. To this day it is not clear to me how the policemen discovered us in the depths of the forest. Probably one of the 'Goys' caught sight of us wandering in the forest and informed the police about us.

After the war I found out that from the whole of that group, amounting to about twelve people, only three children remained alive. Like me, they had managed to slink off and run away from the policemen.


Vysotsk in ruins

At the beginning of 1944 Vysotsk was occupied by the Soviet army. One Friday some months later we arrived there in a cart. It was a strange feeling coming into the shtetl. I was confronted with visions of terror and horror. I felt I would not be able to live there.

We came into the shtetl via the Podvysoche road. It was on this road that we established ourselves in a room we rented from a farmer we knew. The next day we went to visit the shtetl. We were appalled when we came into the Jewish streets.

There was ruin and destruction everywhere. The houses were ruined and only skeletons of walls stood out here and there. Fragments of pages from prayer books, Chumashim[348] and so on were still drifting about in dust and ashes.

The only street that had survived was the main street, running from the church to the bridges, which used to be known as the 'the market'. Most of the houses in this street were intact but missing doors and windows. That meant the houses were deserted; nobody was living in them. In contrast, the 'Goy' streets remained intact. The houses and sheds stood where they had always been, in one piece and renovated, with the same tenants as before.

My parents' home was intact. I went inside it and found a 'Goy' family there. I introduced myself as the son of the rightful owners of the house. I was received hospitably, although, it seemed to me, only for the sake of appearances.

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It was clear to me that I could not stay in the shtetl for very long. Every house, every wall, every object inspired terror in me. All the horror of the killing confronted me. I couldn't bear it. I had to leave and looked for a way of doing this, an aim, a purpose…

All my requests to enter Russia were met with outright rejection on the part of the Russian authorities.

The shtetl of Vysotsk, being so close to the front, was bombed and shelled constantly. It seemed that it was going to be necessary to evacuate it. In fact the Russians began to move the inhabitants out of the shtetl. I had no wish to join the group of evacuees and looked for a way of getting away by myself. I remembered that my parents had at one time handed over objects of value to a Goy family living near Vysotsk for safe keeping. I went to the family, but they didn't want to have anything to do with me.

It was my good fortune that the staff of a battalion operating in the neighbourhood was billeted in this house. The commander, a Jew from Moscow, looked after me. Following his advice, I joined the battalion as an apprentice. This is how I enlisted officially in the Soviet army as an apprentice soldier. The commander protected me and looked after me, making sure that I came to no harm. I went with the battalion wherever it went. I was not given any particular functions apart from frequent guard duties. We were a long way from the front that had been close to Vysotsk - about 8-9 km away. In the months of May and June 1944 the front suddenly moved forward. We came to the neighbourhood of Pinsk where I was bedridden with typhus and taken to a hospital near Plotnitze. After that I was struck down with a fever.


Vysotsk in 1946

I came to Vysotsk again. This was the third time after the Shoah. It was in March 1946. The reason for my return to Vysotsk this time was to sell my parents' house in order to provide myself with a little money for my onward journey. After a good deal of time dealing with the matter in various official institutions and law courts the house was handed over to me. I immediately sold it to the 'Goy' living in it.

At that time the shtetl was neglected and desolate. Of course there were few Jews there, but they were also intending to leave. At the time those present in the shtetl were: Moyshe Levin[349], Itzhak Kaftan[350], Brokhe Kortach, who happened to be visiting her husband (the officer billeted in the shtetl), Nisan Borovyk and in addition some other Jews who were not former residents of Vysotsk.

As I have said, the Jewish streets were in ruins. There were only remnants of houses protruding like memorial stones from among the ruins of dust and ashes as a reminder of what had been and was no more. Whereas the Goy streets remained intact; in their houses and sheds life continued as if nothing had happened.

I did not have the heart to go and visit my brothers at the end of the Podvysoche road [the mass grave]. To this day I regret that and it pains me. It was also a mortal danger then for Jews to return to Vysotsk- even though it was in Soviet

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control. Gangs of 'Banderovtzy'[351], who were carrying out operations against Soviet rule, were roaming in the neighbourhood. Sometimes they attacked people working for the Soviet authorities, killing Jews in particular. The ground was burning under their feet.

I waited desperately for the possibility to leave - for the longed-for shore, Eretz Israel.

  Ze'ev Yoniel (Yakhnyuk)
Kiryat Shalom


  1. Here: late August return
  2. A reference to Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), the period between the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement return
  3. Zhaden', a few km. east of Vysotsk return
  4. Volumes of Chumash: first five books of Moses or Pentateuch return
  5. In Висоцьк – із глубини віків до сьогодення(Vysotsk - out of the depths of the centuries until today), published in 2005 to mark 1000 years since the founding of the village (the revised edition, published in 2009, includes Gitl Fialkov’s account), Moyshe Levin (1905-1978), who had been secretary of the Jewish section of the pre-war underground Communist Party (and, before that, an active Zionist), appears as Movsha Shlemovych Levin. Following active service from 1941 to 1945 he returned to Vysotsk, becoming head of the social security department of Vysotsk region. return
  6. Isaak Senderovych Kaftan, as his name appears in the 2009 edition of the Vysotsk commemorative book, married a local girl*, remaining in Vysotsk until his death in 1996 (*Nisan Borovyk refers to this towards the end of the next chapter) return
  7. followers of Stepan Bandera (1909-1959), leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) return

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In the Shoah and the struggle for life

The shtetl under Soviet rule

With the arrival of the Soviets in the shtetl at the end of 1939 private shops and businesses were abolished. Everything passed into the hands of the government. The shop-owners remained at their places of work as officials and workers employed by the authorities. New enterprises were also established. Among these was a sausage factory of which I was the manager. I had to prepare a written report about the situation and the management of the factory. This report was passed to some central economic office. In my capacity as manager of this enterprise a lot of meat for sausage production was under my control and under my inspection. I was able to make sure there was kosher meat for the Jewish population in the shtetl and this is what I did.

The school of course also passed into the hands of the new authorities. The previous teachers were removed and new teachers were appointed, male and female, of the sort that the new authorities had faith in from the point of view of their class origins, previous activities etc. So Khaykil Sheynman's daughter became a teacher, while Lipshe, my brother Yakhiel's daughter, was declared unfit for teaching because of her 'bourgeois' origin.

For us Jews the synagogue served as the sole public meeting place, not only for prayers but also for public activities and simply for conversation. The large synagogue had burned down some years earlier, and the synagogue of the Brezne Chassidim was the most popular meeting place for the Jews of the shtetl. There they would sort out business affecting the public, set up meetings concerning local matters and also simply argue - about the regime, about life, about everything, as usual.

Among Jews of the shtetl there were some, especially among the tradesmen, who supported and liked the new regime, while there were others who opposed it. The arguments in the synagogue became fiery. Khaykil Sheynman, one of the supporters of the new regime, became disappointed by it over time, because his hope for an improvement in his situation and for aliyah did not materialise.

And so life flowed slowly by until the war between the Soviets and the Germans broke out. When the mass retreat by the Soviets took place at the beginning of the war the shtetl was also abandoned. Many of the Jews, in particular those who had collaborated with the Soviets, joined the Soviets in their retreat from the shtetl and went with them wherever they went, in an eastward direction, inside Russia. So the two brothers, Dovid and Pessach Katz, went with them. Dovid returned from the journey and fell in the war. Avraml Berman, Yakov Kagan, Moyshl Levin and Nishke Borovyk and many others went. The women remained in the shtetl.

Among those who went with the Soviets were some who fell in the war and by the wayside. Others, after years of wandering and great suffering, arrived in the Land. This is how Pessach Katz, Avram Berman, Aaron Shabshi and Shmuel Borovyk arrived in the Land.


Under the yoke of Nazi oppression

After the Soviets had retreated the shtetl remained without anybody in charge. The whole area was already in the hands of the Germans. Stolin continued to be the centre of the province, where the provincial authority had already been established by the Germans. There were grounds for the assumption that was circulating that the

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commander of the province was about to come to the shtetl in order to sort out matters on behalf of the authorities.

The priest Trozhevsky[352], a Ukrainian nationalist priest who had been banished to another region by the Poles because of his hostility to them and who now, with the arrival of the Germans, returned to the shtetl, the same priest, an antisemitic and fanatical Ukrainian nationalist, became head of the local council (the gmina) under the protection of the Germans. From now on this priest became the head and most important person in the shtetl. The Jews also turned to him in all public matters affecting the Jewish community.

His first order affecting the Jews was the formation of a Judenrat[353] to manage the affairs of the Jews and to represent them in their dealings with the authorities.

We gathered in the study house for a meeting in order to choose the Judenrat. Ten to twelve people were proposed: Asher Khayat, Nakhman Perl, Gershon Nafkhan, Aaron Lakhmanchuk, Nakhman Vasserman, Yitzhok Goldberg, Nisan Borovyk, Yakov Raykhman, Hershl Rabin, Yakhiel Borovyk. My wife, Basil Shtoper, was not happy about my joining the Judenrat. She saw in it a tragedy, but there was no choice. I accepted the judgement of the public.

The first meeting of the Judenrat with the German provincial commander in the shtetl was in the gmina building. He spoke to us about the war and how the Jews were responsible for it breaking out etc. At the end of the meeting he ordered the Jews to hand over 100,000 roubles to the authorities (the Russian rouble was a currency that still circulated in the area).

For the Jews of Vysotsk this was too large a sum to collect. Through the efforts of the priest Trozhevsky the sum was reduced to 50,000 roubles.

We gathered in Asher Khayat's house to decide the amount of money each Jew was to contribute to this aim. It was very difficult to collect the sum. Jews contributed gold, and the priest gave them roubles in exchange.

The synagogues were closed. Jews were forbidden to meet together. The community council of the Judenrat moved to the house of Itzhok Goldberg.

A local Ukrainian police force was created, in charge of which was a German commissar who came from outside, together with some German policemen.

Even after the sum of money had been handed over to the authorities we were not left in peace. New decrees came, one after another. All the Jews were required to work, digging trenches etc. A special committee of the Judenrat dealt with that.

The cows belonging to the Jews were confiscated and handed over to the German officials and people working for the authority. Again the Jews were required to hand over some of their possessions, this time clothing - thirty suits. People on the committee like me were the first to hand over their clothes. After the clothes we had to hand over boots. Those who didn't have any had to give money or cereals instead. These were sent to Stolin, in exchange for which we received skins to make boots.

Any dispute anybody had with the authorities was used as a pretext for new decrees against the Jews. When a Ukrainian nationalist teacher, a hater and persecutor of Jews, who organised Ukrainian gangs against the Germans and who had been captured and imprisoned by the Germans, escaped from where he was held the Jews were held responsible for his escape and were required to bring him back within 24 hours, otherwise they could expect a lot of trouble. The Jews, having no choice, began their search for him in the surrounding area. They carried out a thorough search, reporting to the authorities what they had found out. He was captured and sent to Stolin.

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On the eve of Pessach 1942 another decree came out requiring us to hand over to the authorities a large sum of money as well as grain. Itzhok Rykhotzky, the stovebuilder, ran away from his work. All the Jews of the shtetl were accused and ordered to bring him back, or else they would be punished with the full force of German law. Judenrat members went away from the meeting anxious to look for him in the shtetl and in the surrounding area. When they failed to find him there was a danger that as a result all the Jews would be expelled from the shtetl. There was panic and alarm in the shtetl. Jews looked for secret hiding places for themselves and their possessions.

Nakhman Perl went away into the forest, to his 'Goy' friend. His young son, Itzko, who wanted to go with him, was caught by the police as he was wandering in a secret place, looking for money which had been hidden in case it was needed to buy food. As they continued their search the Ukrainian police found hidden treasure and money. Using threats the police demanded from the Jews that Nakhman Perl should appear before them. Dovid Shtoper (the younger son of Shleyme Yoshkes) went to the forest and found Nakhman Perl. Somehow or other he saved himself from a serious brawl with the Ukrainian police and met his punishment in prison. Through the efforts of the Judenrat Nakhman Perl was released from jail. Five suits were handed over in exchange.

The cows belonging to the Jews were confiscated for the officials and the German authorities. The cows were rounded up into one herd and put out to pasture in the meadows beyond the shtetl. Jews who had become herdsmen were responsible for looking after the cows and taking them out to pasture. A group of Jews, among them Velfil Vaks, Dovid Durchin, Feybl Gelman myself and others, became herdsmen for the Jews' cows that had been confiscated by the Germans. These cows provided milk and meat for the German people working for the authorities in the shtetl. We were happy when, after the main milking, we managed to squeeze a little milk from the udders of the cows to keep ourselves and our children alive, some of whom, particularly the older ones, were with us in the meadows.


Within the confines of the ghetto

The order to establish the Jewish ghetto came on the 20th July 1942. All the Jews were mobilized for the work of building the fence of the ghetto. The ghetto surrounded the inner Jewish streets. Barbed wire fences were erected along the whole of the market, one side of which, facing the Jewish streets, was included in the ghetto and the second side of which, facing the 'Goy' streets, was outside it. The ghetto continued as far as the house of the rov Abelson, from there turned right through the narrow mud alley (where Vinnik, Pinkhas and Isroel Shtoper lived) to Pilsudsky Street (the street where Reb Ichie Shabshi and Sender Kaftan lived) and from there as far as the house of the Khover family.

All the Jews of the shtetl were concentrated in the ghetto, plus Jews from villages in the surrounding area. Jews from neighbouring shtetls like Stolin and Horodok, where the situation was even more difficult than in Vysotsk, also congregated in our shtetl. The conditions in the shtetl and in every house within it were extremely cramped. Going in and out of the ghetto was strictly forbidden, except for those with special permits for work in the service of the Germans (taking the cows to pasture, digging ditches etc).

Rumours of horrors began to reach us from the nearby shtetls. They told about killings and mass slaughter etc. We could not believe it. A week before the mass slaughter in Vysotsk a refugee arrived, a young man from Sarny. He told us about the slaughter there. We could not believe it. Another Jew, a refugee, who

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happened to be in the ghetto, told us that he had passed through towns and shtetls and had not met any Jews. There was fear and great consternation.

We sent a Goy on a reconnaissance mission to Rovne to find out about the Jews there and in the surrounding areas. He returned with terrible news: the Jews of Rovne had been slaughtered. We didn't believe it. How could such a thing be, we said to ourselves and to our neighbours. More refugees were absorbed into the shtetl. They also told us about the killings in the towns and in the shtetls. And we did not believe them. We could not and did not want to believe them.

The German authorities began to collect ornaments and jewellery from the Jews. Decree after decree rained down. To begin with they demanded candlesticks, samovars, forks, spoons. After that silver and gold objects. Two days before the slaughter they walked into the Jewish homes and demanded silver, gold, fur coats etc. They themselves would search and rifle through. If they didn't find anything they threatened people with death. The Judenrat itself was forced, by means of intimidation and punishments, to take part in these searches, coaxing the Jews to give them everything they had.

The last order from the Germans was to hand in a sum of gold. The heads of the community got together in the house of Asher Khayat for a consultation as to how to collect the gold. Present at this meeting were: Asher Khayat, the rov Abelson, Sander Kaftan, Aaron Khaznchuk and others. At this meeting a 'ban' was imposed on any Jew in the shtetl who did not hand over his possessions in accordance with the Germans' order. The trouble was there were Jews who, even if they had wanted to, were unable to hand over their possessions because they were hidden in places it was impossible to get to under current conditions. There were possessions hidden in the field, under trees outside the shtetl etc. For example my silver and gold vessels were hidden in the tannery building belonging to the Bigon family, in a covered hole on top of which stood barrels from the tannery which was by then under Germans ownership. There was no way I could get there.

Living under the threat of a 'ban' was oppressive. They blew the shofars[354], lit candles and ordered all the Jews under oath to hand over all their possessions. Those who were present wept bitterly. After that they collected about one kilogram of gold which was handed over to the Germans.


The last day

On the last day before the slaughter I was with the cows in the pasture-land beyond the shtetl, as was my wont. With me was my son, Natanel, aged fifteen. In the morning when he got up my son expressed the wish to visit our home in the shtetl. He was missing his mother and his sisters. I could not stop him, and he went. After a little while I followed him. Aaron Sheynman, who was with us in the pasture-land, was left to guard the cows. On the way I already heard that Gitl Lykhtnfeld had been killed during the night. She had gone out of the ghetto during the night and had hidden with a 'Goy' neighbour. This was reportedto the German authorities, and she was immediately shot.

Natanel Borovyk and Asher Sheynbeyn


I came to the shtetl and I knew immediately that the 'slaughterers' had in fact already arrived in the shtetl. From Yosl Shlyapek, the only barber in the shtetl, who

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used to shave and cut the hair of the Germans and thus overheard their conversations, I already knew that pits had been prepared in Podvysoche. In order to calm him down the Germans told him that the pits had been dug for military purposes. Also from 'Goy' neighbours it became known that these were in fact the pits - two large pits, each one measuring fifty metres in length.

I sensed what was coming. My six-year-old daughter was playing at the back of the house, singing and shouting. I stood at the side and cried. I touched her and embraced her, and she also started to cry. I went inside my house, not saying what I had heard on the way. My son was not at home at the time. Obeying the instruction of the community (the Judenrat), he had gone out to do some work demanded by the Germans. I sensed what type of 'work' that meant. I almost fainted. After nearly an hour my son returned. He had slunk off from his work and come home. We ate some of the soup that my wife Basil had prepared for us and got ready to go back to my work in the pasture-land. I begged my son to accompany me, I implored him, but he said immediately that he wanted to stay another night with his mother and his sisters. I was forced to return to my work.

I returned to the pasture-land, to the cows. When evening came I lay down to sleep. My friend Aaron Sheynman also dozed. His wife and his son had also refused to join him, remaining in the ghetto in the shtetl. I woke up to the sound of the noise and rattle of motors. My heart foresaw evil. I saw and heard the motors as they drove near to the bridges over the rivers at the entrance to the shtetl. The lights were turned off. The motors approached. One of them was advancing into the shtetl.

We ran to the rivers near the shtetl. Dead silence reigned. We did not hear a voice from the shtetl. This was at ten o'clock in the evening. We met Vove Shtoper, Dovid Durchin and Feybil Gelman's son. I also expected to meet my son, but he wasn't there. They said there was fear and dread in the shtetl. Yosl Shlyapek, who was used to coming and going among the Germans, had been shot and killed.

The one motor that had arrived in the shtetl reached the post office, (opposite Asher Khayat's house). One of the 'Goys' who came out of it calmed them down, saying nothing would happen. Dovid Shtoper (Shleyme's son), who sensed the danger, forced a breach in the barbed wire fence. That night fifty people managed to get out of the ghetto through the breach.

There passed a night of dread. When it was morning we heard the sounds of shots from the shtetl. We felt the most terrible fear. We were shocked and dejected. We knew that now our turn had come. We left the cows and turned to go to the forest on the way to the village of Rechitze.


The Slaughter

After some time we met Beril Bigon, who had been in the shtetl on the day of the slaughter and was among those taken to slaughter. He told us that first of all they ordered the Jews to bring their money and their gold. Those who still owned anything brought what they had. In accordance with the order the Jews gathered in one place. They were arranged in rows and separated into three groups, 500 people in each group, 1500 people in all.

In the first row were Yakhiel Borovyk with his three daughters and Leyb Durchin. A few armed Germans, about 10 in number, marched at the sides of the column. The rest of those accompanying them were 'Goys', Ukrainian policemen.

While this dejected procession was moving along the Podvysoche road a roaring sound was heard coming from the column of those going to their death: hurrah, hurrah. The shout went through the whole column. A mass flight began.

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The policemen accompanying them took fright and scattered into the yards of the houses at the side of the street. Some of the Jews in the column continued running away towards the Horyn and then jumped into the river. Some remained where they were. The policemen regrouped and got the chaos under control. Beril Bigon was among those who took flight and jumped into the water, into the Horyn. The murderers chased those who were running away, shooting at them as they swam in the river. Many drowned, few were saved.

One of the 'Goys' present at the time of the slaughter at the side of the pits told us that when the column arrived near the pits they were all ordered to strip naked. Their entreaties, supplications and weeping were of no avail. Everyone, men and women, stripped naked and were pushed into the pits, row after row. Each row was made to kneel inside the pits, along the whole of its length. And so they shot them facing the side of the pit. After them a second row, the same terrible spectacle was repeated, until they were all gathered in the pit, killed and slaughtered, one on top of another in crowded rows. Of those saved from drowning in the river 'Goy' witnesses have told how:

a father and his little son managed to swim across the river. On the other side a bullet hit the father, killing him. His little son remained lying beside him crying, begging his father to give him something to eat. The Germans heard him crying and killed him on the spot;
a little girl was wandering in bushes on the other side of the river. The Germans discovered her and killed her;
Leybush Lieberman's daughter was saved, hiding in the village of Ozery. She wandered around in the village. As nobody came to her rescue she went back to the shtetl, where the Germans killed her;
Leybush's son, Hershil Lieberman, together with other Jews, hid on the other side of the bridge. With nowhere to escape they went back to the shtetl and were killed;
other Jews, who did not obey the order to go out and hid in their houses, were killed in their homes by the enemies;
Nisn, son of Borukh Vaks, who openly refused to leave his home, was shot dead on the spot;
Yoyne Borovyk, my father, came out of his place of hiding some days after the slaughter, to gather some shoots in the yard to make a fire. He was captured and shot on the spot;
Feybl Gelman's son hid in the attic of the priest, his neighbour. Kopchik the doctor, son-in-law of the priest, discovered him and handed him over to the murderers who killed him on the spot.

Who can count and describe the various strange ways the murderers chose to put the Jews to death?


Without shelter

We gathered in the forest of Khochyn. We were a group of 14-15 Jews. Among us were Dovid Beygl, Bertzio Lykhtnfeld, Aaron Sheynman, Dovid Shtoper, Dovid Durchin and others. A 'Goy', a communist, bumped into us on our way. He joined our group and helped us. We handed him some of our money, in exchange for which he provided us with food, particularly bread and potatoes. We all lived as a collective and were very prudent.

Winter came and with it the cold and the frost. The group began to break up. Each one went his own way, looking for shelter and refuge. I was ill, I turned to Prasadovke [Prasodivka] to a 'Goy' of my acquaintance. He would not take me in. I

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turned to another acquaintance who was not at home. His wife greeted me warmly, but in fear. She hid me in the attic until her husband came. The 'Goy' was indeed pleased that I had come but after some days he began to be afraid of revenge by the Germans who had issued an edict, warning that anyone found harbouring a Jew would be killed and his possessions confiscated. So I was ordered to go away at once.

I was all alone, sad and hungry. I found mushrooms which I ate. After a short time I felt my strength wasting away. I lay down under a tree waiting for death to take me and save me. 'Goy' shepherds found me. They recognised me and gave me a piece of bread to revive me. I could not lift my arm to put the bread in my mouth. They put it into my coat pockets. I was thirsty, I wanted a drop of water, but there wasn't any. I lay helplessly, waiting for death to come.

While I was lying there I heard from afar a voice calling 'Nisu, Nisu' (Nisn, Nisn). It was the same 'Goy' who had sent me away from his house in fear of revenge and now he was bringing me a little soup in a small pot and a piece of bread. While he was doing this he told me that Dovid Shtoper, his wife and son were wandering in the forest looking for me. We were happy to meet. Dovid, his wife and their children spent the night at 'Goys', wandering around in the forest during the day.

I continued to go around in circles, wandering in the forest from place to place until a certain 'Goy', an acquaintance from Prasadovke, heard about me. He brought me food and afterwards also took me into his home. I was dirty and covered with scabs. He fed and watered me. I had a bath and learned that partisans would stay in his house, which was by the side of the road. Germans also frequented his house.

It was dangerous to stay at his place, but not having any choice I stayed with him for some weeks. At night I would rest on the stove and during the day I would hide in the attic. One night the 'Goy's' little son woke me in a fearful whisper: 'Nisn, get up and run away, otherwise you will be caught and die.'

I heard people making a lot of noise. These partisans were 'Bulbovtzy'[355] who had were fighting both the Germans and the Soviets. I got up and sneaked away from the house towards the forest. Dovid Shtoper, his family and their relatives had built themselves a sort of fortified cave in the forest. When I escaped from the Bulbovtzy I came to this bunker. After some time I moved in order to live alone in a bunker I had dug nearby. Dovid Shtoper knew that other 'Goys' were plotting to kill him so he and his family left for another forest where communist partisans were active.

A daughter was born in one of the bunkers. I decided to go to Vysotsk to obtain nappies and clothes for the new-born baby. I came to Podvysoche, to Goys whom I knew. When they saw me they were pleased and frightened at the same time. I asked them for clothes for the baby and collected a full sack of clothes and food. I took them to the bunker, and there was great joy.

The spring of 1943 came, the snow melted. We endeavoured to move to other forests, where larger forces of partisans were operating. When the snow thawed the bunkers filled up with water. We worked hard to remove the water from the holes. As quickly as we took water out of the holes more appeared. I was ill from cold, hunger and excessive physical effort.

I decided to leave the bunker and go to a 'Goy' I knew nearby, to rest and recover a little. I came to the house of a 'Goy' called Kiril, whose son was close to the communist partisans but who was also on friendly terms with the Bulbovtzy. One night, as was my custom, I was lying down on top of the stove when suddenly I woke up to the sound of loud knocking. My host calmed me down saying 'Don't be afraid, these are our partisans, the communists'. But something told me that these were different. They were in fact Bulbovtzy. Before the light was turned on I slipped off the stove and hid behind a chest of clothes. They had come in to look for communists

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and Germans. I knew that if they caught me they would kill me on the spot. I heard them place a machine gun by the door, at the same time imposing a curfew on the village. They then began their search.

Straw was brought into the house. The Bulbovtzy spread themselves out to sleep. In my heart I was fainting with fear of the approaching bitter end. My 'Goy' host and his boy were running around like madmen, looking for a way to save me. Suddenly Mishke, my host's son, turns to the armed Bulbovtzy guard and says to him: 'You must want to sleep. Give me the gun and I'll keep guard for you and wake you up in due course.' The guard agreed to the request and lay down to sleep. Mishke came up to me, silently urging me to get up and escape. I got up, stepping carefully among the sleeping Bulbovtzy, and sneaked out.


Under the protection of partisans

I went in the direction of the villages and forests where Soviet partisans held sway. This is how I got to Khochyn and Zhidin. In Khochyn I met Chaim Khaznchuk (the son of Aaron Yoynes). Chaim was making clothes for the 'Goys'. I joined him for work and company. He would cut, and I learned to sew. We made clothes for the partisans. In exchange we received food – bread and meat. Except that the partisans would come and go, and the villages were also sometimes surrounded by Germans.

Once while we were sitting and working a 'Goy' burst in in panic, shouting 'Germans are in the village!' I picked up my few chattels and ran away into the forest. I forgot my little Siddur[356]. In the forest I come to a battle raging between the partisans and the Germans. The village of Khochyn had been set alight by the Germans. I lay in the forest under a tree, bewailing the bitterness of my fate.

The next morning, once the fighting had abated, I returned to the village to look for my Siddur. And indeed while I was wandering about I found it lying on a side path, in its cover. It seemed that one of the bandits had taken it with him. When he realised it was of no importance to him he threw it aside on to the path.

I lived and worked together with Chaim Khaznchuk. In exchange for making clothes we received food. Once we did work for a 'Goy' in exchange for which we received bread, milk and honey. But Chaim was a sick man. His legs were swollen and wounded. On our way back from working at the 'Goy's' place heavy rain was falling. We trod in rain and mud. Chaim's condition got worse and worse. When we reached the place in the forest where we lived his legs had swollen so much that he could not walk any further. I got hold of some ointment, handmade by the Goys, with which I rubbed his legs. The result was that all the skin fell off his legs.

Among the partisans there was a famous Jewish doctor, Dr Erlykh. His conclusion was that if conditions had been suitable he would have had to amputate his legs in order to save him. Otherwise he would not survive more than 24 hours. And in fact after a few hours he breathed his last breath and died. During the whole of the night prior to his death he talked about his father. His final words were: 'Nisn, I bless you, stay alive and tell them about me …' He called 'Mother' and died.

We got hold of talises[357], of which the 'Goys' had quite a few, having stolen them from the Jews. We wrapped the dead man in them and loaded him on to a cart that we got hold of from a Goy, burying him in the forest some way from our bunker.

Without Chaim I remained without a source of food. I wandered from place to place, skeletal, exhausted and hungry. Once I went into the house of a 'Goy' near the village of Udrytsk. In response to my request his sons said they did not have anything to give me apart from some potatoes in their skins which they had prepared

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for the pigs. On the eve of Pessach we got hold of a little spelt flour which, with water added, we used to bake a kind of matzot[358]. This served as our Pessach food.

Once, it was the beginning of 1944, I entreated a 'Goy' to accompany me to Vysotsk. I wanted to find something as a reminder of my children. He agreed. We came to the shtetl. The church stood untouched. The majority of the houses along the long market were in ruins. My house still stood, undamaged. Likewise the house of Hershl Makhls. Isroel Nakhman's house was only partly destroyed. The houses of Nisn Vaks and Yehuda Shtoper were intact. The Germans were no longer in the shtetl, and the Red Army already held sway in the vicinity.


Liberated Vysotsk

When Vysotsk was liberated by the Red Army we, a group of Jews, returned to the shtetl. I lived alone in a house in Podvysoche street. I became a tinsmith. From pieces of tin I made all kinds of vessels, in exchange for which I received food to keep myself alive: bread, potatoes, butter etc. A bakery was established in the shtetl by the Soviets. This is where we got our bread. When Itzl Kaftan arrived in the shtetl I joined him in tailoring work. We kept body and soul alive from the wages we received from the 'Goys'.

The shtetl was devoid of Jews. The majority of the Jewish homes were in ruins. The houses which had not been damaged had been improved and repaired and turned into offices of the Soviet authority which had been re-established in the shtetl.

I began to receive a great many letters from Vysotsk people scattered in the surrounding area and in Russia. In all of the letters I was asked to reply to them with news regarding relatives and acquaintances in the shtetl. I replied to all of them based on what I knew and on the information I gathered from the 'Goys'.

I walked in the ruined streets and collected fragments of books, parchments, little personal keepsakes etc. Once I met a shiktze[359] wearing a blouse made from the material of talises. I became angry, tore the blouse off her and took it. She apologised, saying she had received the material from a partisan.

In the shtetl I heard from 'Goys' about the bitter end of the Jews who had escaped the slaughter. The Khover family and Dovid Shtoper (son of Yehuda Shtoper) had hidden throughout the winter in the German colony near the shtetl. They were exposed by 'shkotzim'[360] and reported to the German murderers. They were captured and dragged to the shtetl along the route to the cemetery. Going past their house Motl Khover refused to go any further. He was shot and killed on the spot. They captured Velfl Vaks in the forest and dragged him to the shtetl together with gypsies. There they pushed him into the pit together with the gypsies and shot them.

The Soviets began to bring order back to the shtetl. They established offices for the authority etc. On one occasion I was called to the commandant of the shtetl. When I went to him and he discovered that I was the only Jewish son of the shtetl who had come back he asked me to cooperate with them in order to exact revenge on the Germans. I replied that I wanted to go to my sister in Eretz Israel. In the end I acceded to his request and gathered information for him about the killers and those who had collaborated with the Germans. I identified many shkotzim who, according to my information, had killed Jews. They were killed by the Soviets on the basis of my evidence. Once I was called to give evidence in front of a special committee that was collecting evidence and material about the killing etc. I was told that on the

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initiative of this committee they were opening the burial pits, taking photographs and filming etc. I was called to come to the open graves, but they did not let me come near the place without a special permit. But the same sentry who would not let me approach by the usual route advised me how, despite that, I could get to the pits via a side road.

I arrived there. A terrible spectacle was revealed in front of me: the pits were open and 'Goys' were dragging out body after body. Seven bodies were already out. Dressed in their clothes, these were the bodies of those who had been thrown into the pits after the main slaughter. I saw a woman covering her face in her hands, I saw a baby. There was a terrible stench. I was shocked and in turmoil. My knees gave way and I fainted. Russian nurses helped me. With an aching heart I shouted: 'Why did you open the graves?'

I had a meeting with people from the committee and protested to them about the desecration of the graves. My protest was in fact effective, and the action was stopped. After that I heard that the local priest had arranged a burial service by the side of the open pits. Again I protested to the authorities. The priest calmed me down, saying that it was only done for the sake of filming. These pits were unfenced. In response to my appeal the area of the slaughter was fenced. But later on the fences were destroyed, and the graves again remained unprotected.

I saw that there was nothing for me to do and I began to think about getting out. Several Jews had gathered including Nishke Borovyk and Moyshe Levin. The husband of Brokhe Kortach arrived. Nishke knew him. Brokhe's husband had been appointed by the army to clear up the areas that had been mined. I met him and we became friends. We spoke about Brokhe who had written to me from Leningrad, asking about her relatives and about her shtetl and about the address of her sister in Ramat HaKovesh. He began to ask me questions about his wife and about her connections with Eretz Israel etc. Once he told me that Brokhe was on the point of coming to him in the shtetl. And she did in fact come. We met with her in Podvysoche, in a house full of Soviet officers. She fell on our necks, weeping bitterly. For hours we sat talking and crying. She told us that it was thanks to her mother-inlaw, who kept her and looked after her throughout the whole of the siege of Leningrad, that she had remained alive. The child, their child, had died.

Brokhe travelled to Rovne, accompanied by two soldiers, and brought back food for us. She visited the side of the burial pits. In her parents' house she searched for something to remember them by but didn't find anything. The little Siddur in my possession was from her father, the last thing remaining from her destroyed home.

Brokhe returned to Leningrad. Her husband, as an officer, moved his office to Dombrovitz. He would often visit me. We talked a lot about Judaism, Zionism, Eretz Israel etc. Finally he admitted to me that he was a Jew and came from a noble family. His father had fallen into bad ways, drinking himself to death. He himself had studied in a military school. When he graduated from the school the war broke out.

He had met Brokhe in a little shtetl near Vilne. She was working there as a teacher when the Russo-German war broke out. They got married. When the Soviets retreated she went to Leningrad, the city of his birth.

Itzl Kaftan and I remained the only Jews in the shtetl. We worked and hired ourselves out for our upkeep. When the rumour reached us that there was permission to leave for Poland Itzl went off to Rovne in order to register exit permits for the two of us. We began to collect money and get ready to leave. Meanwhile Itzl had met a shiktze. He became attached to her and didn't want to leave her. All my pleas and appeals to him to take her with him when he left came to nothing[361]

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After Passover 1946 I left Vysotsk via Sarny. On the way I met other Jews. We continued our journey to Poland together. We got there in May 1946.

From Poland my 'escape' route took me via camps with masses of Jews emigrating to the Land. I arrived in Czechoslovakia. And from Czechoslovakia to Austria and from Austria to Germany, where I stayed for two years and four months.

In December 1948 I arrived in the Land.

  Nisan Borovyk


  1. Veroslav Tkhorzhevsky return
  2. Council of Jews return
  3. Shofar: ram’s horn return
  4. Ukrainian People's Revolutionary Army followers of Taras Bulba-Borovetz (1908-1981) return
  5. Prayer book return
  6. Prayer mantles return
  7. Unleavened bread return
  8. Gentile woman return
  9. Gentiles return
  10. See note 350 on p. 98 return


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