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A Dark Nightmare

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Eliyahu Kotz

** Webmaster Note: The following is a translation from Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov as sponsored by George Zilbergeld. Additional clarifications are provided in parenthesis ( ).

A DARK NIGHTMARE

Like a dark nightmare, those days visit me that began with the days of murder at the time when we were in the defiled hands of the Ukrainian gangs, before the Germans entered our area, and lasted until the bloody times that followed. 

On the day that the Soviets retreated, there was a meeting of all of the scoundrels, the oppressors of the Jews, in the home of the Ukrainian priest Sochazhanyt, may his name be blotted out, in which the bloody plots against us began to take form.  Sochazhanyt, together with the son of Cheperkowitz, the priest from Ostrowitz, who was a teacher in the public school, went out to the center of the town, where they held a demonstration in which thousands of bloodthirsty goyim participated and where they called for revenge upon the Jews.  Riots and murders began immediately.  Also at the head of these activities, in addition to the priest and the teacher Cheperkowitz, were the Ukrainian teacher Garitzky; the feldsher Ostapenko, my neighbor; Kaleisha the sausage-maker, and Kalim Czaczko, the head of the village Polovla.

I remember the days of robbery and riots that followed; how the goyim streamed from the villages both near and far, in vehicles and on foot, their eyes filled with murder and the desire for booty.  Many of the Jews did not sleep in their homes.  They left everything and fled, in order to save their lives.  The houses were emptied by the rioters, and all of the booty was loaded onto wagons and taken to the homes of the goyim.

Matters continued in that way until the Germans entered the town.  From now on, official, organized decrees began – at first, we were ordered to wear a ribbon with a Magen David, so as to separate us from the rest of the residents, and after that – a yellow patch – on the chest and on the back.  Later, the affair of taxes and rates began, in gold and in cash, in clothing and shoes.  A dark fear came down over the town.  The well-to-do were obligated to pay also on behalf of the poor, who were unable to give their share.  The houses became empty, and there was not a ring, nor a bracelet, nor a brooch, remaining – all of the family jewelry was turned over in payment of taxes, in order to fulfill the imposed quota.  We had to hand over to the goyim even the little that still remained in our possession in payment for food…  A few days later, a second tax decree fell upon us – the Jewish council [Judenrat] was responsible for seeing that payments were made in full, because if it were not, they would be killed.  When this second obligation was also paid, the believers among us were filled with confidence that finally, our dark skies would become clear.  But the decrees followed each other – one to supply furs, and one to supply wool garments, another for shoes, and the like.  And official requests were not the only trouble makers for us – if, for example, a German asked for a certain piece of furniture from your house, he would come in and take it, load it onto a wagon and bring it wherever he wanted.   

One day an order was issued to draft people from the age of 15 and up to work on the bridge in Antonovka.  The people were sent there for an entire week at a time.  Every time the workers came back from working on the bridge, several Jews would be missing, because if the German desired a bloody game, he would shoot whoever he wanted and throw the body into the river.  Many lost their lives that way.

My dear daughter Chanale, who was 15 years old, was sent to work on the bridge for two weeks.  My eyes failed from worry until she returned.

Thus the dark winter of 5702 [1942] passed for us, until the Passover holiday.  After Passover, the order arrived that all of the Jews had to enter the ghetto, to which all of the Jews of the surrounding area had also been moved.

Now, the days of trouble, hunger and illness began.  We were naked and lacked everything.  Here, I see the necessity to devote a few words to the doctor and his wife, who lived in our town during those years and also were killed in the Holocaust.  I do not remember their names, but I know that they arrived in our town in 1940 during the Soviet regime.  They originated from the Lublin area.  After a short time, this doctor was appointed as the manager of the town's hospital.

The doctor was a generous man, with a warm Jewish heart.  I know that when he would visit one of his patients, if he saw that the house was a poor one, he would waive his wages and did not agree to be given any payment.  Everyone loved him.  At the same time, he was an expert doctor.  When the Germans entered the town, he remained in his position and continued to manage the hospital.

I remember an event during the ghetto period.  I wanted to visit several villagers of my acquaintance so as to obtain a bit of food from them.  Such a deed involved a death sentence.  I devised a plot:  I went to the Jewish Council and got a certificate that I was sick and had to visit the hospital.  It was possible, of course, to get to the hospital in different ways.  So I didn't walk on the usual road, but rather past the "links," on the street leading to Dolgovolya.  I passed by our cemetery, and from there I reached the Christian neighborhood of the village.  Only after that, I visited the hospital.  Here, I met another Jew, Yisrael Dik.  He also had come to the doctor for treatment.  I claimed I had pains in my arm, and Yisrael claimed that he had pains in his leg.  This took place a short time before the day of annihilation.  That day, the doctor was very angry, and he said to me and Yisrael:  "Are your heads still given to vanities – treatment in the arm or the leg – here, the day is coming when they will cut off our heads!  Don't you feel that the day of our murder is approaching?  What are you thinking of?"

On the day of the murder, they left the doctor and his wife alone, and allowed him to continue working in his profession in the hospital.  Milka Bas' little girl was staying with the doctor.  Because they had no children, the doctor and his wife adopted her as a daughter after her parents gave her to them with the hope that the doctor and his family would remain alive because the Germans needed him.  Indeed, on the day of the murder, the Germans did not harm them.  But five days later, the sword also fell on their heads. 

It was Tuesday, the 19th of Elul.  On that day, a special order was received from the regional commander that all of the Jews must be destroyed, without any exceptions.  The doctor and his wife, and with them Milka Bas' daughter, were taken to the pits in the forest that same day, and were murdered there. 

Every once in a while there was an order to report to a roll call.  The elderly, and also infants, were forced to go to the gathering place in the town, where the roll calls were held, and Heaven forbid if even one person was missing.  The first time, everyone was in a panic and worried that they would not return from this roll call, but nothing happened to them at the first roll call, and everyone came back safely.  Thus we became accustomed to the roll calls, until the last one, from which no one returned.

One morning, I went out with Kaplan because of an order that had been given to collect trousers for the Germans.  On the way, we found out that they were digging grave pits for the Jews.  My entire body began to tremble with fear of this knowledge, and a roll of paper that I was holding fell out of my hands.  At that time, a great many goyim from the villages of Dolgovolya and Zhulkin had been drafted to dig the pits.  This was a Tuesday, and the town was surrounded by guards.  People wanted to flee to wherever their eyes would take them.

The first night, there already were sacrifices among those who had tried to flee – Beyla, Meir Lipichas' daughter.  She, her husband and child fell that night in the field.  Leizer the butcher and his children were also killed in similar circumstances.    Yisrael Dik and his brother, their wives and children, fell near the Mariak.  They paid a Ukrainian policeman and he promised to save them – he took their money, and after that he disposed of them.  The situation continued until Friday.

On that day, the order came to gather as usual for a roll call in the gathering square.  There were Jews who had prepared hiding places in advance, and they hid there that day, but most of the Jews of the ghetto were driven out of their houses – old and young – and were brought to the square.  I managed to build a small bunker in my cowshed, which was able to hold only two people.  I hid my wife and children in the bunker in Shlomo Kutin's attic.  There, 23 people were hiding – Yosef Burko and his family; the Rabbi's brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and four members of my family.  Our bunkers were cut off from each other, without any connection between them.

The day of destruction was over, and night fell.  The Germans and police held a gay feast and party after the murders.  Their drunken voices and wild shouts were heard all around.  We lay in our hiding places, stricken with horror, while the murderers, may their names and memories be blotted out, were filled with joy and happiness.

The next day, the Germans began to search for bunkers and hiding places, because according to their calculations, hundreds of Jews were missing.  That day, in other words, that Sabbath, I heard through the cracks in my bunker, that in my neighbor Shlomo Kutin's hiding place they had found 23 Jews.  Now I knew that my wife and three children had been seized.  On that day, the Germans found over 300 Jews hiding.  They took them to the pits and murdered them.  I, and my son Lyova, passed the second night after the massacre hidden in my bunker.

Sunday arrived.  The villagers and goyim of the town now went out and spread out in the houses and attics, to search for an "inheritance."  They dug around and searched everywhere, until they revealed me and my son Lyova.

I begged them not to turn me over to the Germans.  I gave them the valuables I had with me, but it all was for nothing.  After the villagers went away, Ukrainian police immediately came, and one German was with them.  They destroyed the bunker and brought us to the prison cell in the police station, where 160 Jews were gathered.  Among them was Rabbi Shlomo Shlita, the rabbi of the town, with his wife; Shmuel HaMalach with his wife; Ben-Zion Zhuk and his wife, Teibel, their two daughters and their son.  I asked Ben-Zion Zhuk how he had saved himself up to that day, because I had seen through the cracks of my hiding place that he had been caught already the day before.  He told me that they had been caught after the 300 had been murdered, and the Germans didn't want to disturb their Sunday, so we would have to suffer one more night.  That is what Ben-Zion said.

I can hear the crying and screaming in the narrow room even now.  It was a very hot day, and all of us suffered from thirst.  I turned to the Ukrainian officer through the steel bars on the window.  I asked him if he could do a last kindness for us and open the door for a few minutes, so that we could satisfy our thirst a bit.  There was a well nearby.  Everyone from Vladimirets certainly remembers the well at the police station.  The officer, who had been born in Vladimirets and in the past had been a friend of mine, immediately asked me where I had hid the valuables.  I sent him to my bunker, and meanwhile he ordered that the door be opened for a few minutes.  Accompanied by policemen, they brought us to the well to get some water and drink it there.  I also took advantage of the opportunity, and together with my son Lyuba we went to the well to drink.  We immediately returned to the prison room, whose door remained open.  But immediately, before the door would be locked, I went out again, and this time I went into the toilet that was in the yard because of my need.  The guard here was a Ukrainian policeman.  After I entered the toilet, a woman also came, who had brought her little child to urinate.  The woman and child left quickly, and the policeman certainly forgot that another Jew, who had entered first, remained inside.  I didn't imagine that I would be saved.  I only decided to remain there, so as not to suffer in the prison room.  But they didn't come to look for me, and at an opportune moment I snuck out of the place and fled to the forests, where I passed through all 77 Departments of Hell.  Whatever happened to me afterwards, the thought that we must take revenge on those who spilled our blood never left me, even for a single moment… 

In 1944, when I returned to Vladimirets, I began to work in the N.K.V.D. and took revenge against many murderer-gentiles.  The first one I avenged was my neighbor Kaleisha, who had been a sausage-maker.  When I arrived in town, I Immediately went to see my house.  The house was already destroyed.  When I came, I saw Kaleisha, my neighbor, standing next to his house.  My anger ignited within me when I saw him.  I approached him, grabbed him and beat him so hard that he was covered with blood.  I went to the N.K.V.D. and reported all of his horrible deeds.  They immediately came and arrested him and threw him into the cellar in his house.  They emptied his house, and sent his entire family into exile – to Siberia.  After about two months, his trial was held in Rowne, and Shulamit Nisman and Reuven Baril appeared there as witnesses.  He was sentenced to death. 

The second one was Kalim Czaczko, the head of the village Polovla, who followed the Jews who were hiding in the forests and turned them over to the Germans.  This Kalim came one day to Khuta Sopachov, where he found the Poles who had contact with us, and he beat them severely.  He forced them to go and show him the hiding places of the Jews, and so he found one bunker in the forest where there were eight Jewish souls from Rafalovka – four women and four men.  Four of them were killed on the spot, and the rest of them were turned over to the Germans.  They were tortured cruelly until they died.

I and two other Jews from the N.K.V.D. went out armed to Polovla, where we seized the murderer.  We took out our anger on him, and before we turned him over to the authorities, we hit him very hard.  He also received a death sentence.  The witnesses at his trial were Shlomo Appelboim and a Polish man from Sopachov.

After that, we took revenge on the hooligan Tichan and several other murderers.

There also were generous-hearted goyim who helped the Jews, and here will be remembered mainly the Ksyondezh [Polish Catholic priest] from Vladimirets – one of the righteous gentiles of the world.  Already since his youth, the Ksyondezh was beloved and engraved in the heart of every Jew – his relation to the Jews was one of mercy and kindness.  If the Polish government caused us trouble, the first thing to do was to hurry to him, and he would always stand in the breach and extend his help.  I myself was helped by him more than once.  In 1918, when the first Poles entered the town after the Bolsheviks withdrew – the Polish police arrested many Jews, including myself.  They accused me of transferring gold from the Poles to the Bolsheviks.  That was what the goyim had informed them about me.  They beat me with the butts of their pistols until blood flowed.  I already had no strength even to breathe, and they sentenced me to death.  Then my mother, Tula, hurried to the Ksyondezh.  He immediately went with my mother to the police and rescued me from their hands.  He brought me home half dead, half alive.  This happened on a Friday, at the time of candle-lighting. 

When I was in the forest after I fled from the Nazi oppressors, I met the Pole Shadorsky, and he told me that the Ksyondezh was accustomed to speak to his congregation every Sunday in the church, when he ordered all of the Poles that if they met a Jew, they must welcome him in friendliness and love, feed him and give him to drink, and tell him that many Jews were living in Pinsk and its surroundings, and that there were Jews in Sopachov.  According to these directions that I heard from the Pole, I went out on the road with another Jew, and that is how I remained alive…
 


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