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Me and My Son

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Shlomo Appelboim

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

ME AND MY SON

The fear that came over our town Vladimirets before the destruction cannot be described.  We, the entire Jewish congregation, were brought to the gathering site.  Each one of us felt the shadow of death that spread over us.  And surrounding us were human wolves, Germans and Ukrainians, thirsty for our blood.  Of all of the members of my family, the hand of Fate rescued only me and my son.

My Flight 

I saw that many people were beginning to run away.  I decided that I would run too, without knowing where.  I ran next to the Jewish cemetery, along the road leading to Dolgovolya, and they began shooting at me from every side.  I was attacked by a great fear.  I looked for a corner to hide in.  I passed through the cemetery by way of the fence, and here, I met a villager I knew. 

"Don't go to the village.  There you won't find an escape," said the farmer.  "Go to Ostrowicz' thicket.  There you will find a hiding place."

I listened to his advice and turned toward Ostrowicz' thicket.  I plodded along until I came to the house of a farmer I had known for a long time, named Toker.  I knew that this farmer would not betray me and would not turn me over to the murderers.  I was soaked with sweat and my legs were very weak.  The farmer looked at me in amazement and confusion, and said: 

"G-d will help you if you were able to escape from such a fire.  But look, my friend – if you had come here in the dark, I would willingly hide you in my house for a number of days.  But now, in daylight, it is possible that one of the neighbors saw you and will tell the authorities about it.  They will burn me, and you, alive.  Therefore, listen to my advice.  I will give you food for the road and I will bring you through the forest to Zhulkin's thicket.  Follow me."

He gave me a knapsack and put bread and cheese in it; by way of the narrow paths of the forest, he led me toward the cemetery of Zholkin village.  He told me that the daughter of Leibchik, one of the Jews of the village, was hiding in the village.  He promised me that he would try to tell her about me.  And thus, he parted from me and went away.

The day darkened into night.  I remained alone between the bushes at the edge of the forest.  Perhaps I would merit a sign of life from Leibchik's daughter, who was a seamstress in the village.  Four hours passed with this expectation, and there wasn't a living soul around.

At a distance, I heard the voices of the farm women singing, and a great depression came over me.   Why did I escape and save myself from a common grave, all alone without my family, and now I had to plead [to save] my skin, dependent upon the kindness of goyim?  My death would be better than my life.  And here, a thought arose in my mind – only a few kilometers separated between my hiding place and the town.  I would return to Vladimirets and turn myself in to the murderers, and there would be an end to my loneliness and fear.  I got up and plodded along toward the town, but my legs stumbled, and I fell.  I couldn't see the way in the heavy darkness.  I remembered the rumor that the Germans would burn alive a Jew who had escaped from them, after they had cut his flesh into strips… and I fell asleep.  When I awoke, I saw a sliver of light blinking in the village. 

This light awakened a spark of hope within me – perhaps G-d would have mercy upon me and I would find other Jews.  I remembered that the house of a farmer, old Dzhegaliuk, who had once worked for me in the forest that we bought near Vidimir, was near the place where I was sitting. **  I groped for the path, and so I arrived at his house.

[**Note: Sender Appelboim, the son of Shlomo Appelboim, of blessed memory, notes that the Christian, Ivan Shamay, one of the righteous gentiles of the world, endangered himself by helping his father.  It is surprising that he is not mentioned in this chapter.] 

The old man, a farmer of over 70 years old, had already awakened, and he met me at the door.  He was surprised to see me, but after I asked for a place of shelter, he said: 

"You are my guest, and I receive you like a father receives his son.  But I am already old, and my son, who supports me in my old age, is now the owner of the farm.  I will show you a place in the barn, up in the hay.  Lie down and hide there.  But I ask you, if Heaven forbid you are caught, tell them that you went there on your own, and that you found shelter here without my permission."

The old man showed me the place.  I lay down in the soft hay and fell into a deep sleep.  When I awoke before noon, next to me I found some bread, cheese and vegetables that the old man had brought.

Two days passed in the barn.  On the third day, Dzhegaliuk's son came to take down some straw, to bring to the authorities in the town.  When he saw me hiding in the corner, he didn't say a word.  He only threw a heap of straw over me with the pitchfork and left for the town.

In the evening, he came up to see me.  He called me with a whisper, and said:

"I recognized you, Shlomo.  I know that you are an honest man.  I knew your family.  Why did you come up in the barn without my permission?  Do you know that if they catch you, they will burn us together with you?  If G-d has punished you [the Jews], what are we guilty of?  Where is the honesty here?"

I began to stutter.  I said that what he said was true.  Only the fact that I knew him drove me to do it, and if it displeased him I was prepared to go away immediately.  When he saw my confusion, he said to me that tomorrow he would tell his old father to take me to the forest, so I could find a hiding place there.

The old man came early in the morning.  He brought me food and led me on a narrow path to the forest called "Yukman," which is located between Paroslas and Vidimir, not far from the village Zhulkin.  I found a hiding place on the slope, behind tall pine trees.  The old man promised to visit me and bring me food.  I requested that if by chance he would find a Jew that he knew from our town, he should tell him where I was. 

A Meeting in the Forest 

I remained alone among the trees until the afternoon.  Dark thoughts oppressed me very much.  Again I was filled with regret that I had fled; I sought comfort for my soul, I wanted to pray.  I had a talit [prayer shawl] and tefillin [phylacteries] in my knapsack that I had rescued when I fled, but I did not have a siddur [prayer book].  After I recited the Shema, a great weariness fell over me.  Verses from Eicha [Lamentations] hovered before my eyes:  "He has filled me with bitterness; he has saturated me with wormwood…he sits alone and keeps silent because he has borne it upon him…he puts his mouth in the dust; perhaps there is hope…" 

I was still sitting, sunk in fear and in my thoughts; horrible pictures passed through my mind.  The holy images – my brothers and sisters, and the entire Jewish congregation, fluttering in the hands of the horrible hangmen. Suddenly, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, an image appeared, approached and went away.  I laid myself down on the ground and looked from my hiding place toward someone who was slowly approaching.  It appeared to me that it was not a human being walking here, but a skeleton.  When he approached me, I recognized by his clothing that he was a Jew, but I still was unable to identify him.  His face was as pale as the face of a dead man.  His clothes were torn and dirty, and his voice sounded like it came up from the Valley of Death.  "Don't you recognize me?" he said.  "I am Gershon Teitelbaum, your relative from Rafalovka."  He told me that he had fled from the slaughter next to the pits and hid for two days in a cesspit.  After that, he crawled through the thickets of Osobik.  Of all the farmers he knew, not one of them wanted to give him a place to sleep.  He fed himself with crumbs he received from shepherds in the forest, and vegetables that he found in the gardens.  He was thinking of going to his birthplace, Ząbkowice.  There he knew farmers who would give him shelter.  In this area, he was at a loss.  I shed many tears when I heard what he said and when I saw how the young man, the upright tree, had become a shadow and skeleton of bones.  I took out the food I had in my knapsack and asked him to revive himself.  I comforted him.  I said to him that I knew a lot of people in this area among the farmers, from the good years when I was a forest trader; wherever I would find shelter, he would find shelter also, and two are better than one.  He swallowed some of the food that I gave him and said that he had heard that several Jews from Vladimirets were hiding near Vidimir, and it was worth it for us to go in that direction.  Before I was able to answer him, a Ukrainian forest guard with a rifle appeared and began shouting at us:

"Why are you wandering here in the forest, cursed Jews?  Come with me to the German gendarmes [police]!"

We began to beg him and asked him not to shout.  Finally, I gave him my coat and Gershon – his boots.  We began to run, with our remaining strength, toward wherever our feet took us, without knowing where we were going, until we came to the narrow train track, at the place where it goes from Vidimir to Antonovka.  We lay down in a place where no one could see us and waited until 11 o'clock at night.  At that hour, there are no railroad workers around. 

Now Gershon was barefoot, and he was very depressed.  Suddenly, he began to feel around in his clothing.  He took out two pills from a small paper box.  I asked him to explain about the pills, and he told me that the doctor who lived in his house had given him two pills of poison so that he could end his life if he had to.  Now, everything was detestable.  He would swallow the pills and be finished.

I told him to think.  I said, "Here, we are close to Vidimir.  In Vidimir, there are friendly Poles and good people.  They will give us shelter.  There is also hope that there we will find some Jews from our town."  After 11 o'clock at night, we got up to look for the road.  The surroundings were very familiar to me.  I had spent almost eight years here before the War working in the forest and in the wood trade. 

We went to Rodnitzky, a Pole I knew, who was the manager of the local train station.  He welcomed us, gave us some food, and after that he said to me

"Listen, my friend.  The German police from Antonovka and Vladimirets visit here frequently.  I know, and I also saw, that Mendel Burko, Shneur Nisman and David Rosenfeld, Jews from your town, have passed through here.  Apparently they have a hiding place in this area.  But I do not know where they disappeared to."

I asked him to advise me where to go, and he answered that we have no choice but to go to the forests.  Perhaps we would meet one of the Jews of the town and find some shelter.

Without waiting very long, we went into the forest leading toward Prurawe, but in my heart I thought that we should go to the Polish settlement, which was 5 or 6 kilometers away, on the other side of Vladimirets.

"We will go together," I said to Gershon.  "At a time of trouble like this, it is good for us to be together."

But Gershon began to try to convince me that I should go with him to Cepcewicze [Ząbkowice], the village where he was born.  The farmers there know him since his childhood, and there he would find safe shelter.  I told him the legend about the fish, and I said to him that the matter was similar to the fish who wanted to go out of the sea onto the dry land.  And if I was afraid in a place like Vidimir, in surroundings that I was so familiar with, how much more I would be afraid in Cepcewicze [Ząbkowice], where nobody knows me. 

"Who knows, if I won't be a burden to you?"  I said to him.  "Because of me, maybe they will drive you out too."

To that, Gershon answered me that he was also worried that because of him, my acquaintances wouldn't give me a place among them.  We decided to part from each other.  We fell into each other's arms, and we parted with hot tears.  Gershon went his way to Cepcewicze [Ząbkowice], and I made my way to Vidimir.  It was 1:30 in the morning.  Near the thirteenth kilometer, I slowly knocked on the door of one of my acquaintances, Vladislav Piron.  His wife and his daughter Stipa opened the door, and when they saw me, they became very upset and began to shout at me: 

"What's this?  Did you really rise from the world of the dead to frighten the living? 

I calmed them down and quietly told them that I was seeking shelter.  Piron's wife whispered:

"Quickly, run away from here.  Tonight a Pole is sleeping in our house, a scoundrel who works for the Germans.  Heaven forbid – he could hand you over to the Germans."

Without saying another word, I retraced my steps and ran to Felko Ulineyczyk, whose house was not far from Piron's house.

My Child Is Alive

Ulineyczyk welcomed me.  It was already 2 o'clock in the morning.  He poured me a cup of milk and suggested that I go to the barn to rest on the hay.  He told me that a family from Vladimirets was sleeping in the hay and that they were on their way to somewhere else.  But at the same time, he told me to think whether it was worthwhile to hide in a house that was one-fourth of a kilometer from the train tracks.

I entered the barn.  There I found Reuven Baril with his wife and children.  Reuven fled with his family before the day of the massacre, and he was planning to leave early in the morning for Khuta Sopachevska; he had heard that there were partisans in that place, and he hoped to find shelter there with his family.  I wondered if I should ask him for permission to go with him.  I was 50 years old.  I was very worried that I would be a burden to him.  But he himself began to try to convince me to accompany him and his family, and that we should rest for an hour and afterward go out on the road.  We changed our clothes for farmers' clothing.  Instead of shoes, we put felt slippers on our feet and wore jackets made of heavy material.  We were all ready to leave.

Suddenly, Ulineyczyk came running in.  He called to me, saying:

"I forgot to tell you that your son passed by my house one day.  My heart was broken to see him wounded in the leg.  He asked me for shelter, but that evening railroad workers were in the house, along with Germans and Ukrainians.  So I put some bread and cheese in his knapsack and I told him to go to Vidimir."

When I heard this, Ulineyczyk was holding on to me.  I almost fainted.  I said to Reuven Baril, who was ready to leave and was waiting for me:

"My dear, go in peace!  I am staying here.  I must find my boy."

Reuven warned me that the place was dangerous, and that I must be careful.  He quickly parted from me and left with his family.  I immediately approached Felko and begged him to advise me what road I should travel to look for my son.  He advised me to go to Vidimir, and look for him there. 

Vidimir was a Polish village whose houses were scattered along the length of the narrow-gauge train tracks.  Felko's brother – Michael – lived a short distance from here.  "Go to him and ask him, " Felko said.  I parted from him. It was now 4 o'clock in the morning.  After a few minutes of running, I reached Michael Ulineyczyk's house.  I woke him up and told him that I was coming from his brother's house.  I asked him if he had seen my son. 

"Of course I have seen him," he said.  "He passed by here and went on the road to Přerov [now Czech Republic].  I gave him bread and milk.  He is limping." 

I Search for My Son

I immediately left for Prurawe [Přerov [now Czech Republic]].  Before I left, Michael warned me not to go on the main road, but to stay on a hidden path, because Ukrainian police were walking around in the area.  I stayed on side paths.  Many times, I made my way by crawling.  When it became light outside, I went to Rudnitzky's house.  My heart beat faster when I entered.  I didn't know if it was my older son or my younger son.  I asked Rudnitzky if he had seen my son, and he told me that he had seen the younger Lebensky go outside with a rifle and drive a young boy away.

"I couldn't give the boy shelter, because I am in a dispute with several of the village farmers, and I am afraid that they will inform the authorities." 

Rudnitzky appeared emotional and angry.  He asked me to quickly go up on the roof and hide, because every morning for several days, there had been searches for Jews who had disappeared.

"Here, here" – he showed me to the barn that stood in the middle of the path.  "Go down there quickly, because it is dangerous in the house, and also on the roof."

When I saw his panic-stricken face, I quickly left his house and disappeared among the gardens of the houses, going toward the barn that was on the road leading to Vladimirets.  I had just entered the barn when I saw, through the cracks in its walls, a group of six Ukrainian police who were standing near the barn.  I hid in one of the corners, and through the cracks I saw that the heads of the group were the two Ukrainian murderers Kapitula and Kuzricz.  Kapitula pointed with his hand toward several houses where a search had to be conducted, while he twirled his long mustache and shouted to his men:

"Strangle the Poles with the Jews, and burn them together, if you find anyone hiding." 

Here, they were approaching the barn where I was hiding.  My entire body began to shudder, and I remembered what I had been told about what they had done to Asher-Aharon from Dolgovolya, that they had cut him up into pieces.

I lay curled up in the corner, trembling all over.  And I saw that they were walking past and then returning back over their footsteps.  It was a miracle that I had entered this barn, which was open on both sides and broken, and because of that they certainly didn't think that a Jew was hiding there.

At 11 o'clock in the evening, Rudnitzky came to me and told me to go with him to a pile of hay that was located on the way to the Dubovka Forest.  He suggested that I lie there until the searches would end.  I listened to him and thanked him very much, and he promised to tell me when the searches ended.  I took the food he had brought with me.  I went deep into the hay, and he covered me well.  I laid in that haystack for a day and a night.   

On the second night, Rudnitzky came and told me that there had been searches in the entire area for Jews who had escaped.  The searchers had gone over every Polish house in Prurawe.  Goyim from Dubovka also participated in the searches.  Now, he said, I must exploit the pause in the searches and go to Vidimir, but I must be careful, because sometimes there are German guards on the road.

I parted from Rudnitzky and began to scout the way to Vidimir in the dark.  Not far from the seventh kilometer next to the train tracks, it appeared to me that I saw the shadows of approaching men.  I decided to crawl.  I passed through paths and gardens, until I reached the house of an acquaintance I knew well, the Pole Yasko Burzhinsky.  Yasko was a frequent visitor in our house before the war.  He loved to joke.  He had a sense of humor and was good-natured.  When I woke him from his sleep, he looked at me and said:

"You look like you are wearing a Purim costume, but in a goy like you, they will immediately recognize the Jew."

I asked him if he had seen my son.  He told me that he had indeed been there and requested shelter, but as his bad luck would have it, there was a German guard from the "Tot" [death] battalion not far from the house, and because of that he couldn't hospitalize the wounded boy.  He showed me a hidden path, over which the boy had gone on his way. 

Meanwhile, Yasko's wife had awakened and heard us talking.  She immediately ordered her husband to put on his fur coat and help me search for the boy in Vidimir. 

"Go from house to house, and don't come back until you find his boy…"

Yasko was fat and tall, and was naturally careless.  He grabbed his coat, covered his face with a warm sweater, put his cap on his head, and we went out together to look for my son. 

We searched for three hours.  We went from house to house, in the entire village of Vidimir, whose houses were far apart and spread out.  Finally, Yasko suggested that we go to the Dzherchinsky brothers, half a kilometer from Vidimir, on the road to Antonovka.

In 1936, I had bought a section of forest from one of these brothers.  We entered the house of one of the brothers, Kiten – he wasn't there; the house of Felix – he wasn't there; the house of Florian – he wasn't there.

"There is one more brother, the youngest of the Dzherchinskys, and his name is Stanislaw.  He is the village priest's brother-in-law," said Yasko. "This is the last place in Vidimir.  If we do not find him here, it is a sign that he has left Vidimir."

It was already close to 4 o'clock in the morning.  The window of the house was open.  My heart beat faster, and I trembled all over to think that, again, I would hear the answer that the boy is not here.  We knocked slowly on the door, and Mrs. Dzherchinsky, Stanislaw's wife, came out to greet us.  I greeted her and asked whether they had seen my son going by their house.

"Your son is in my house."

At hearing these words, I almost fainted.

Yasko parted from us in happy excitement, and went on his way.  The woman approached me, took my hand and whispered:

"Are you the only one here?" 

"No one is with me," I answered. 

"So come, and I will show you."

She brought me to the stable and carefully looked around.  She quietly closed the gate behind us.  Slowly, she took down a cover made of boards over the cattle stall next to the wall, and before my eyes was revealed a pile of hay spread with a straw mattress covered with a white sheet, and in the pile lay my dear son Senderke.  I looked – my son was lying with his eyes half closed, dozing and not dozing.

"Quiet, quiet," said Mrs. Dzherchinsky, "we will stand aside and look at him.    We will not wake him." 

And here, Senderke opened his eyes, and when he saw me standing next to him, he said, in a quiet voice, 

"Is it you, Abba?  How did you come here, Abba?" and his eyes filled with tears. 

The fountain of our tears was opened.  We wanted to speak and tell each other, but the tears choked our throats, and we were unable to say a word. 

"Be calm," said the goya – "Your son will recover in a few more days.  The wound is minor.  The bullet went through the flesh of his leg."

The Noble Woman

"You are an angel from Heaven," I said to this noble woman, who had taken care of my son like a mother. 

"I am not an angel," she said, "I only did what I had to as a human obligation.  Only my human obligation and no more.  You don't have to thank me for what I did.  Just be very careful, because the wild animals are creeping and lurking here, all around us."

She arranged a hiding place for me in the barn, between the flax and the barley, and in my heart a spark of hope and consolation arose.

The next day, when we had calmed down from our first meeting, Senderke told me about his flight from the gathering site.  His mother, Sarah, pushed him and said, "Run away, my son, run.  You are lucky, perhaps G-d will help you and you will be saved.  Fire was opened on all sides.  He saw horrible sights, bodies of people who were murdered, and he ran into the fields.  He crawled almost on all fours, by way of Prurawe to Vidimir.  On the way, a shepherd boy took his coat away, and he arrived almost naked and barefoot at the Dzherchinskys' house.  By then, he had no strength left, and here the noble woman gathered him up, healed his wound and took care of him like a mother…

We rested in the Dzherchinskys' house for ten days.  Senderke recovered completely.  The noble regard of this Polish woman for us cannot be described.  But the place became more dangerous day by day.  The nationalist Ukrainians, who fiercely hated the Poles, came to the place every day to conduct searches in the village, contending that the Poles were hiding Jews in their homes.  Several of the forest guards brought a rumor to the authorities that they had seen Jews wandering in the forests of the area, and the fear in the place was unbearable.  We began to prepare a plan of flight, and we decided to go to Khuta Sopachevska, where I also knew some farmers whom I had come into contact with through my forest business. 

Toward evening, Mrs. Dzherchinsky toured the neighborhood and told us that if she would find any problems on the way, she would signal to us by waving her scarf.  We had only gone a short way from her house, and we saw at a distance a Ukrainian shepherd with his flock.  We immediately saw a wave of the scarf.  We began to run and hid in a pile of hay that we found in the middle of the path.  We stayed there to sleep.  Early the next morning, the owner of the hay arrived, and when he saw us hiding, he began to shout.  He wanted to take us to the village authorities.  I, from a great fear and confusion, remained standing and pleading, but my son Senderke pulled me, and called,  

"Abba, let's escape quickly!"

He began to run.  I was pulled after him.  It was dangerous to continue on the road in daylight.  We went up in the hayloft of one of the barns until it would get dark.  At night, we were able to sneak out and go by way of Vladimirets to Khuta Sopachevska.  This was a very courageous and dangerous deed, because the German and Ukrainian police were stationed in the town.  But it was also dangerous to remain where we were until morning, because the hunt for Jews in Vidimir had increased.  In the end, we decided to go in a round-about way to the village Polovly [Belopol'ye].  The bravery of my son, who began to run in front of me, awakened also in me the strength to do this.  The road to our town, which had always awakened feelings of happiness, now projected a great fear.  Before we arrived at the path that passes by the Jewish cemetery, my heart began to pound and my head began to spin.  I could not see a thing in the dark.  Every rustling sound caused me to tremble.  But my good boy encouraged me with his words:

"Here, a little bit more and we will pass around the town, and we will be on the way to Polovly."

With unusual efforts, we went a distance of 20 kilometers, and we arrived at the house of Tukachuk, a farmer, one of our good acquaintances.  It was 11 o'clock at night.  The farmer opened his eyes wide and began to cross himself:  "Great G-d," he said, "quite simply, you have crossed through the lion's jaws.  The entire gang of Germans and Ukrainians is now located in the town, and their guards are wandering the roads.  Come, quickly, into the house.  Rest.  I will give you food for the road.  Don't go into the village, but go into the forest next to the village."

Tired and weary, we sat down to rest.  He brought us milk and bread.  We ate to our satisfaction, and laid ourselves down on the straw he brought us from the barn.  We asked him to wake us in two hours, so that we could go out to Polovly when it was still dark.

A Righteous Gentile

After the farmer awoke us from our sleep and we were equipped with food, we turned toward Polovly.  From Polovly, we walked to Zelenitsa [Sal’nitsa], where, after searching and scurrying around, we found Yaakov Dik and his brother, and the son of the butcher Menachem.  We were very happy to meet other Jews.  They were hiding in the village, each one with a friendly farmer.  Yaakov Dik told us that we should go with them and we would find a hiding place in the house of the farmer that they knew, but when we arrived at the place we understood that it was impossible.  We told Yaakov that we were going on the road to Khuta Sopachevska, and that as far as we knew, as of yet there were no Jews there who were refugees from our town.   

Now, I remembered that in one of the woods, not far from Dolgovolya, lived a farmer who I knew well.  The farmer's name was Bartoda.  He lived in the Roban woods, and it was not easy to find the path to his house.  When we arrived at his house, he welcomed us and said:

"You are dear guests of mine.  If Israel is found in such trouble, I also want to join his trouble and to participate in his sufferings." 

He was 37 years old.  A handsome farmer, with deep religious faith.  He could quote entire chapters of the Tanach [Bible] in Russian. 

"Come," he said to us, "rest in my barn on the hay.  Two Jewish girls from Dolgovolya are hiding here.  There is enough food for all of you."

He was one of the wealthy farmers.

"Indeed, I know," added Bartoda," that all kinds of creatures are running around here.  They are wild animals in the form of men, and the danger is very great.  But I decided to rescue whoever I can." 

He began to comfort me with warm words and to quote verses from the consolations of Yeshayahu [Isaiah], that we would merit to see the building of Jerusalem.  Warm words such as these from the mouth of a Ukrainian were something exceptional, and almost unimaginable at that terrible time.  Indeed, my heart did rest easier upon hearing what he said.  But I understood that here, we were in danger.

It was the day before Rosh HaShana.  I did not have a prayer book, and I poured out the prayers that I remembered to the Creator.  Here, Bartoda came up to us in the straw where we were hiding to bring us food.  He also began to pour out his heart about the terrible times we were living in, and

the days that would come to the world after the Holocaust.  Again, he quoted verses and chapters from the Tanach.  He visited us from time to time, and thus the Ten Days of Pentinence passed while we were in the home of the farmer Bartoda – one of the righteous gentiles of the world, who endangered his life in order to rescue souls of Israel.

On Erev Yom Kippur [the day before Yom Kippur], one of the farmers from the village brought rye seeds to be ground into flour, because Bartoda owned a flour mill.  The man asked to be allowed to sleep in Bartoda's house.  Bartoda was afraid that the farmer would want to lie down in the straw, so he offered him a bed in the house, but during the night, the young farmer went up in the hayloft, because sleeping in the straw was more enjoyable for him.  When he came up, he saw all of us trying to hide.  At dawn, when the farmer awoke, he recognized us.  I saw that it would not be so wise to ignore him.  I approached him.  He was a farmer whom I knew well.  He understood what I wanted to tell him.  He spoke before I did, and said: 

"You are lucky.  I am one of Bartoda's best friends, but is it always possible to depend on miracles?  You can cause the farmer, who has such a precious soul, and all of his family, to leave the world together with you."

After Yom Kippur, I approached Bartoda.  I thanked him for all the good and kindness he did for us, and I asked him to give me a letter of recommendation to one of his friends in Tikowicz.  He began to implore us to stay.  He tried to calm me and said that there was no danger in his house, but I told him again that we couldn't stay here and endanger his entire family.  We had, therefore, to leave immediately.  I went up in the hayloft and asked the two girls from Dolgovolya to come with us.  I explained to them that Bartoda's good attitude was well-known in the village and that they could denounce him.  But the girls refused to leave.  They said Bartoda was like a father to them, and that they had no strength to search for another shelter.  I saw that everything I said was in vain. And with the dawn's light, I went down and we went on our way – to Lepna [Lipno, POL].  Bartoda accompanied us with the blessing that we would merit reaching the days of Moshiach [the Messiah] and rebuilt Jerusalem, the holy city.  He gave us food for the road and thus he parted from us. 

In Lepna, we hid for two days at the house of one of our farmer acquaintances.  From there, we made our way to Khuta Sopachevska.  Some time later, when we were sitting in the Khuta Sopachevska, we heard about the bitter end of the dear farmer Bartoda.  Two goyim from Dolgovolya – Marko Sazan and Kalim Czaczko – followed him, and they found out that girls were hiding in his house and that two Jewish boys had also hid there recently.  The German police conducted a search in his house.

They asked him if Jews were hiding in his house.  He answered negatively.  But after the search, they found the four who were hiding.  They shot them immediately, and after that they went to Bartoda and asked him why he did such a thing.  Bartoda stood up bravely and with holiness under this investigation.  He answered the Germans:

"You can take my body, but you will not take my soul!"

They shot him and burned him.  Thus, the holy farmer Bartoda was martyred.  May his memory be a blessing! 

Sukkot in the Forest 

During the following days, we found several Jews from Vladimirets sitting in sukkot in the forest.  Every one of them had put up a sukka according to his ability – most were made of tree branches.  The Poles from the surrounding area helped them build these sukkot and they would notify them if a hunt or search was being conducted by the Germans or Ukrainians.  The partisan organizations had already begun to operate, and the situation improved a bit.  Among these remaining Jews, we found Yaakov Bas and Michel Weisman from Rafalovka.  Yaakov Bas invited us to his sukka, but he was not the owner of the sukka; it was built by Michel Weisman.  Michel would go to the farmers' homes in the area as a medic and doctor.  We remained in this place for some time.  Occasionally there were hunts in the area and the Poles would notify us in advance.

On such a hunt, six Jews from our area, who were caught in their sukka,  fell into the hands of the Germans.  They were taken away naked by the Germans and Ukrainians, at whose head stood Kalim Czaczko, a goy from our area. 

I remember the night of such a hunt, a stormy night.  After midnight, we were awakened from our sleep.  My shoes were torn; my feet were very swollen, and I could not put them on.  We had to hurry and run away from the place.  Everyone had already spread out in the forest and I couldn't run after them.  My son Sender stood and waited for me.  At a distance, we already heard the voices of the German hunters.  I ran with all my strength, but my legs were weak and I frequently fell down.  Senderke lifted me up each time.  The storm and snow blinded our eyes.  We went deep into the forest.  We no longer heard the voices of the murderers, but we had lost our way and we didn't know where to go.  My bare feet were frozen with cold.  There was no living thing around.  Thus, we wandered for a long time, until we almost passed out, and here, we found ourselves again next to the sukkot, which were empty of people.  The German murderers had gone away.

We dived onto the benches in the empty sukka and sank into sleep.  With the light of dawn, local Poles found us, and they were amazed.  They told us that searches had taken place in the entire area.  Several Poles had been beaten with great cruelty, and precise searches had been carried out in the houses.  We asked them where the Jews who had lived in the sukkot had gone, and they told us that they had fled to Molczicz [Milejczyce [Pol]].

The village Molczicz had always had a bad reputation.  It was a village of rioters and murderers.  Even before the War, Jews had been murdered in this village.  But now, its inhabitants had changed for the good.  We knew that the partisans were operating in the village and its vicinity, and that there were many farmers who offered their help to our survivors.  Even so, we were very afraid that a disaster would happen to us on the road.

About two kilometers before the village, we saw children playing near a farmer's house.  We went into the house.  This was the house of Dr. Kribowitz, who was active in the partisans and had connections with them. He told us about the hunt and the search that the Germans and the nationalist Ukrainians, who were called "Bulbobaczi," had conducted here.  He informed us that the Jews who had left their sukkot in Sufa-Czub had crossed the Styr River at one place and had headed toward Vyarusha Konon's house.  But in order to reach there, they had to cross one place in the river where the water had not yet frozen, a swampy place that was very hard to cross.  Kribowitz brought us to one of the farmers, who took it upon himself to bring us across the river.  He went in front of us, and I held on to his belt.  We entered the cold water up to our necks.  We walked on narrow paths and he showed us the way to Konon.  After walking about 20 kilometers, we arrived, exhausted and wet, at Konon's house.  He immediately ordered that we be brought other clothes.  We changed all of our clothes, from our underwear to the hats on our heads, and felt as if we had been reborn.  There, we also found Fania from Rafalovka, who had been staying at Vyarusha Arkif's house. Again, we found a connection with the remaining Jews from our town and its surroundings.  Varyusha Arkif was a religious farmer, of the type like Bartoda.  He also would recite verses from the Book of Books, and he wanted to help us with all his might.  Thus we were able to gather strength at that place. 

And again, panic.  The "Bulbobaczis" were coming.  There was a great fear of them in the neighborhood.  They fought against the partisans, and spent their time mainly in searching for the remnants of the Jews and Poles.

We again spread out in the forests and woods, and wandered on nameless paths to places where the partisans were in control.  One night, while we were on the way to Mozericz, we found a woman in the forest with a baby in her arms.  This was Rivka, Rozman's wife, Berel Schwartzblatt's sister.  When we arrived at the first farm and entered the farmer's house, the farmer's pity arose for the woman with the baby, and he allowed her to remain there to sleep.  To us, he said:

"Go and look for another place for yourselves."

We wandered around in the night, hungry and shivering with cold, until we found an empty sukka.  We laid down on the cold ground and covered ourselves with straw that we found in the sukka.  At dawn, we again went out to search for a hiding place.

We went back on the path leading to Molczicz, and here, in one of the thickets, we found shelter.  The farmer's wife received us nicely and arranged a place in her house for us for the entire winter, until just before Pesach.  My son Senderke worked for them in the field and in the house.  I also helped them with all of the housework, and so we had a period of rest after our difficult wanderings.

At the beginning of the spring of 1943, we heard of the great victories of the Russians at Stalingrad.  Large camps of partisans, with artillery and other weapons, arrived in our area.  Hope began to flicker that in a little while, the end of our wanderings and sufferings would come.

Public Prayer

Again, we, the remaining Jews, gathered in Tikowicz.  There, we found Yaakov-Ber and Rachel Matikowitz.  Again, we erected sukkot and we brought ourselves food from the neighboring farmers.

We gathered all the survivors from the forests and the area next to the Shetov partisan camp.  There, we were together with the refugees from our town:  Reuven Baril, Mendel Burko and his brother-in-law Brezniak, as well as a few Jews from Dombrovicz.  We wandered in the footsteps of the partisans from place to place, and so we arrived at Syczin, where there was a large Polish farm that belonged to the noble Czertorisky, with fish pools.  We ate fish instead of bread.

Erev Rosh HaShana [the day before Rosh HaShana], 5704 [1944].  We, the survivors of cities and towns, gathered in the forest – among us were Jews from Stepan, Sarny, Vladimirets, Dombrovicz, Zlutsk, Rafalovka, Duba and more.  This was one of the forests of Pinsk, the Nigovshetz Forest.  We made seating places from trees and here we conducted public prayers.  I will never forget that prayer in the forest.  We had only two prayer books.  The cantor was Yitzchak Feigelstein or, as we called him, "Itzik from Duba." He prayed in a loud voice, in the manner of the Stolin Chassidim.  The echo of our prayers was lifted far among the trees, and men and women gathered and came to us from every part of the forest; even the Polish refugees who were with us came to hear our prayers.  The sounds of weeping tore the Heavens. 

After the prayers, Itzik from Duba made a heart-rending speech:

"We are standing on a huge common grave.  We must not remain in the land of blood.  We are obligated, like the Jews of Spain, to swear that we will not remain in the land of the destruction of our people, but will turn toward our Holy Land…"

Illness and Hardships

It was the Sukkot holiday of that same year.  And again we were sitting in sukkot, but next to the partisan camps of the "Kushcziushka" battalion, whose officer was the Jew Panisevitz, an assimilated Jew who had shown resentment toward the surviving Jews who had gathered there.  The "Wanda Wasilevska" battalion was also located there.  Many of the Jewish refugees were employed in different jobs by the partisans.  The Germans were already suffering defeats, but sometimes they conducted strong attacks from the air in these locations.  During an attack, we would spread out in the forest and hide under the trees and bushes.  I remember such an air attack near Dolsk.  We ran naked from the sukkot in the autumn chill. 

Senderke came down with a severe case of typhoid.  He lay in the sukka on a bed of straw, with a high fever.  There was no doctor or medic in the place; there were no drugs and no food appropriate to revive him.  I was knocking on the doors of the farmers to ask for a bit of milk for him.  His condition got worse from day to day.  The day before the crisis of the illness, he was almost unconscious.  I sat next to his bed all night, and shed tears.  The next day he was a little bit better.  His fever went down, and he recovered slowly.  With the help of a Jew from Sarny, I got some milk and chicken from the farmers to help him recover after his serious illness.

One day we found out that our relative, Isser Appelboim, was in one of the partisan camps near Yanowa, and that he was the camp's major-domo.  Our shoes were completely torn; the rains were strong, and the swamps in the Pinsk area were very large.  We therefore decided to go to Isser's camp and ask him for boots.

We knew the manager of the flour mill in Dorozhin, a Jew by the name of Pomerantz, who was also appointed major-domo of the partisan camp there.  We wanted to equip ourselves with a permit, so that we could go to Appelboim's camp.  It was difficult to obtain a permit.  We left without one.

As we passed through the forest, we saw a horseman galloping toward us, a young partisan officer.   When he saw us, he immediately jumped off his horse, pulled out his pistol, and aimed it at me.

"Who are you, and where are you coming from?" he shouted. 

I began to explain to him that we were from the Rowne area and that we were going to see our relative near Yanowa.  He began to search my knapsack, took out my tallit [prayer shawl] and tefillin [phylacteries] and the prayer book that I had recently obtained.  In the prayer book, there was a page written in Yiddish.

"What is written on this page?" he began to shout.

I wanted to explain to him, but he stopped me with his insolence:  "You are spies, why are you wandering around?"  I began to plead and explain to him that we knew Pomerantz, the manager of the flour mill, and that we were going to see our relative in the camp.  I explained to him that he could ask the "Sobrit" and he would be convinced that we were telling the truth.

"Fine.  Go.  I am not worried that you will run away.  I will go and ask, but if it turns out that part of your story is not correct, I will catch you and shoot you immediately."

He left us, and he did not return to chase after us.  We arrived at Isser Appelboim's camp.

Isser was happy that we came.  He said that he could supply whatever we needed.  He suggested that we stay with him. He helped us as best he could, but there was no possibility that he could get boots.  We had not yet been able to rest from the troubles of the trip, and here was a German air attack.  We spread out in the forest, and when the attack ended, Isser told us that this place was dangerous.  Here there were frequent attacks, because we were near the Dneiper-Bug Canal, only three kilometers away.  He advised us to go back to Dorozhin.  We listened to his advice and went back.

We had only reached Dolsk, and again there was a strong attack.  Again, a flight in panic and a search for cover in the forest.  My legs were weak already and I did not have the strength to drag them, and we had to quickly cross a very large swamp.  Senderke stood and waited for me.  The partisans began to shout that we were blocking the crossing.  Senderke began to cry from over-excitement.  He helped me go forward with all his strength.  With difficulty and suffering, we passed through the place and reached a forest, where we hid until the attack was over. 

These attacks came and recurred periodically.  This situation continued for a long time.  One day, we heard the news that the Russians had liberated Pinsk and the entire Rowne area. 

Beaten and poor survivors, we went out, each one to return to his town.  Four from one city and one from a family – exhausted and tired, we remained, the dry bones of all the Jews of Volhynia.  We passed Parkaly and found the Soviet Army.  On the way, we saw German airplanes that had been downed by the Russians.  We saw the German prisoners that were taken to Russia, and we felt somewhat of a feeling of revenge against the murderers of our people.

With the Liberation 

Sombre and downcast, we returned to Vladimirets, the town where we were born, grew up, were educated, where generations of Jews had lived.

For us, our town had turned into a great cemetery.  There was no sign of destruction there.  All of the houses on the streets and alleys, remained as they were before the destruction, but death ruled over everything.

It was spring.  Around us, Creation was awakening to life, and in our hearts there was a Holocaust.  We returned on a Friday.  On this day, the Sabbath lights were kindled in every house – and now, a fearful darkness was all around.  I was unable to walk past our house.  My dear wife, my son Yaakov, my daughter Estherke, my sisters, Sender, Gedalyahu, Yehuda, Nechama, Chana and Sarah – all of these fresh, young lives stood before my eyes – the life that was cut off.

From a distance, I saw the house of my Uncle, Reb Moshe Eisenberg, of whose family no one remained.  I remembered the Jew Reb Moshe, the Torah scholar from Motoly, who studied incessantly; his sons, Yaakov and Zeev Eisenberg, and his daughters.  I remembered the Sabbath nights when he would pleasure us with his stories from the weekly Torah portion, from the Talmud and the Zohar.

Everywhere I went, different pictures arose before me, pictures of Jewish Vladimirets – living Vladimirets, full of kindness and splendor.

"Master of the Universe," my heart cried within me, "why has all this come to us?  Why was this Holocaust visited upon us?"

Everywhere we turned, we saw only strangers.  All of the houses were filled with the Russian Army.  We found a place in a house that once had been known as "Yehoshua Miriam Devorah's" house.  Every day we spent there seemed like a year to us.

The earth was burning under our feet.  We wanted to flee as fast as possible, but we had to live in the cemetery named Vladimirets for four months, until we were able to leave it.  The Russians tried to convince us to remain in the town, to return and build new lives here… 

I received a position in the town, and every day we heard speeches about the new regime.  Ivan Shamay, one of the farmers, a true friend, came to visit us.  I went with him to see the grave of our martyrs.  The bones of our dear ones were still scattered over the ground.  We buried them.  We built a fence around the place.  This was the last kindness I did for the dead, before I left our town forever.
 


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