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Sorrow and Wanderings

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Yaakov Bas

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

SORROW AND WANDERINGS

Rafalovka, Near Vladimirets 

The reader of the various articles of the book encounters the name Rafalovka – the town near Vladimirets - many times, and there is a note of affection in the pronunciation of the name.  That is how we are accustomed to call those who are younger than ourselves, and indeed, Rafalovka was younger than Vladimirets – it is possible that I will not be able to prove this on the strength of documents and evidence, but if feelings have strength and authority, everyone felt that Rafalovka was younger than Vladimirets and that was why it even was a bit more modern.  There were connections and mutual ties between the two towns in matters of trade and in matters of family – sons and daughters of both towns married each other, and thus the families branched out and their roots were sent here and there. 

Avraham'l, the famous klezmer musician and his band were invited to play at weddings in Vladimirets, and the dramatic troupe of Vladimirets made visits to Rafalovka, where it presented its plays.  Young people from both towns held mutual excursions with each other.  And the main thing was – both towns belonged to one community – which was known as the Vladimirets community, and their common rabbi was Rabbi Shlomo Shlita, of blessed memory. 

Many years ago, when I was a young boy, when I first travelled with my family to Vladimirets, I arrived first in Rafalovka, and from there, we travelled in Isaac Vyachur's wagon to our destination, to Vladimirets.  Also, years later, in 1928, when I sought a more secure place to earn a living, I, my wife and my children left Vladimirets and settled in Rafalovka, where we opened a pharmacy and built our new home.

In fact, Rafalovka was not a single town; rather, it was two towns that were 12 kilometers apart.  The nearest of the two to Vladimirets was called "New Rafalovka" or "The Station" and the farther was called "Old Rafalovka."  New Rafalovka was established at the beginning of the 20th Century.  When the train tracks and railway station were built, the place began to draw many settlers who found it attractive for business and trade.  The settlement developed and grew quickly.  The first people to come here at the beginning of the century and establish themselves were the Boleva and Kaufman families.

In the eyes of my memory, I see the beautiful train station, built of red brick, and the many preparations around it – trains coming and going – loaded abundantly with wood; the large fairs that took place every Thursday.  The shops here were large, and they sold wholesale to the settlements in the area – among them, Vladimirets.  Here is Miniuk Rosenfeld's large store – a grocery warehouse.  Among his customers were Pesach and Yaakov Tscherniak, who were accustomed to come here in horse-drawn wagons to buy their merchandise.  There were wood warehouses and forest businesses – traders and dealers who were our brothers the Children of Israel, and workers with the saw and axe from among the villagers, who were not.   There was a well-branched and developed cattle trade.  Here is Frankel's store – a shop selling fabrics and clothing, and here is the Brezniak-Fogatz shoe store.  These storekeepers bought their merchandise in Lodz and Warsaw, and therefore the prices here were lower.  There were salt and crop storehouses belonging to Shimshel Rosenfeld, who was related to the Schwartzberg family in Vladimirets. 

The connection with the world was stronger here, because of the train, and this was recognizable in the clothing and manners of the residents.  There was a Tarbut school in the town, and among its teachers were those who had left Vladimirets – Teacher Shlita and Teacher Rudia Muchnik, who was related to the Garmarnick family.  There was a new and beautiful two-story synagogue; most of the members of its congregation were Stepan Chassidim.  The area was surrounded by an abundance of pine and poplar forests.  The road to Vladimirets went out to the east, and to Old Ravalovka to the west.  Near Old Ravalovka, in the direction coming from The Station, was a hill that was called Cossack Hill.  When you ascended to the top of the hill, suddenly Old Ravalovka would be revealed before you. 

The view of Old Ravalovka was different from that of the New.  To the west of the town shone the many waters of the Styr River, a river that in certain places reached a width of 100 meters or more.  And just like the train track and train station put their stamp on New Ravalovka, so was the influence of the Styr upon Old Ravalovka.  Steamships, boats and rafts all sailed on the Styr.  It was a waterway for trade between Pinsk and Lutsk and the settlements on the banks of the river between these two cities.  Merchandise and travelers travelled in various types of boats up and down the river.  If there was a sudden, continuous siren in the quiet of the town, you knew that a passenger boat had arrived. 

Here, on the bank of the river, there also was a large flour mill that was operated by a water wheel.  Wide, green pastures spread on both sides of the river; here and there, at their farthest ends, the horizon was marked with dark, bluish spots – the thick pine forests. 

The Styr was the source of livelihood for fisherman, most of whom were Christians, but also for Jews, who bought the fish from them and shipped them far away.  In the summer, the river was an attraction for the young people, for swimming, hikes, and sailing. 

About 85 Jewish families lived in the town.  There were two synagogues, one of the Stepan Chassidim that stood on the very shore of the river, and one of the Libishayer Chassidim.  I prayed in the Stepan synagogue.

Old Rafalovka was like Vladimirets – its beginnings were in the distant past, and this was recognizable also in its synagogues, which were old.  Between the various remodellings, the remainders of the original building from past generations could be seen.  There were no schools here.  Private teachers found a source of income in the town, and among these were some who had left Vladimirets – such as Litman Wollak, Zeev Borak, Yitzchak Pinchuk, Feldman, and Moshe Appelboim.

There were no permanent weekly fairs here; the goyim gathered here for a market day only on their special holidays.  They would come to the fairs from the entire surrounding area, even from Vladimirets.  I mainly remember Neta and Avrasha Weiner, who would come in wagons, and David Rosenfeld, who brought shoes and leather goods for sale.

This form of life in the town continued, incidental to light compensations, for many years; it was an existence having roots in the ground of the place.  And so it was until the Soviets came in 1939.  Now, the town shed the form of tradition and had not yet taken a new form.  The Jewish existence of yesterday began to be uprooted, and the soul became full of worry about tomorrow. 

Before the Storm

There were many refugees in Rafalovka who came from the territories of Poland conquered by the Nazis.  Most of them were desperate and embittered.  It was hard for them to become accustomed to the Soviet regime.  There were those among them who regretted that they had fled from Poland eastward.  Now, they were of the opinion that the fear of the Germans was exaggerated.  The letters and postcards that arrived from conquered Poland assisted this feeling – letters from relatives that had been approved by the Judenrat [Jewish council] in the locations from which they were sent.  We read words full of optimism in these letters: that the situation in Poland was good, that nothing was lacking and that the attitude of the German conquerors was loyal and comfortable.  Everyone was working and was satisfied, and their only problem was their longing for the relatives who had fled.  I personally read several letters of this type that were received by refugees living as our neighbors.  Now, we understood that this was one of the German strategies of deceit, that they forced the Jews to write that way.  But at that time, the matter was a riddle in our eyes:  How could there be any compensation in the attitude of the Germans toward the Jews?... 

Several months passed, and some of the refugees nevertheless acclimated themselves to their new lives – they settled in their various workplaces.  The exchange of letters between Poland and Russia did not weaken, but became stronger.  Women who had remained in Poland requested that their husbands return home because the children missed them, apparently very much.

At that time, a call was issued by the Soviet regime: all those who were willing to travel to Russia to work would be allowed to do so, but that there were also possibilities of returning to Poland.  These were two simultaneous alternatives, and it was hard to choose between them.  Many of those who were attached to their families decided to return to Poland.  Others, whose fear of the Germans was strong, found a holding in the Russian territories.

The Russian-German treaty was also a riddle in our Jewish eyes.  We knew how great the difference was between the two regimes and the two outlooks – the Nazi and the Soviet.  The members of the Soviet regime did their best to explain it – there were those among them who gave the excuse for the treaty as the Soviet repulsion toward war, which would bring about a holocaust; according to what they said, the treaty was a withdrawal from war and prevented it.  There were those among the Soviets who explained the matter as a means for lengthening the days of peace so that they would be able to base themselves better and build more, thereby strengthening themselves.  These were the Russian explanations.  But what were the German plans for the near future?  This we did not know at that time, until the day arrived when it became clear to us without any special explanations.  Now, we understood that this was apparently a lull before the storm.

It was the very early morning of a clear summer day.  Suddenly, we were awakened by the threatening sound of a squadron of airplanes flying overhead in the skies, heading eastward.  It was 4 o'clock.  At dawn, frightened, we went out to the porch and from here we saw them.  And indeed, the feeling of fear that grabbed us was not in vain.  During the morning hours of that day, the radio already notified us that German planes had invaded Russia and bombed large cities, such as Kiev, Minsk and more.  They also informed us that during the night between June 21 and June 22, brigades of the German army had crossed the Bug River, thereby declaring war on Russia. 

Very quickly, we witnessed the confused withdrawal of the routed Russian Army.  Remnants of the Army passing through the town proposed that we flee together with them, but only a few people responded.  The letters that were received from the Russian territories and told of the difficult situation of the refugees, also had a hand in this decision.  I remember that my son Natan, of blessed memory, also wanted to flee to Russia during this withdrawal, but we objected, and we explained our objection in the need for us to remain together and not to part from each other, as well as the troubles and trials of the refugees in Russia.

Revenge on the Jews 

A strange situation arose.  The Germans had already invaded the large towns in the area, but the small towns like Rafalovka, Vladimirets and the like remained without a regime.  The Ukrainians, who had always been haters of Israel, found the opportunity to declare their own regime, the main purpose of which was to take revenge on the Jews.  At that same time, divisions of the Soviet Army who had been cut off from their brigades were wandering around on the deserted paths of Volhynia.  These were attacked by the Ukrainians, and their weapons were stolen.  Our area was already conquered by the Germans, but in the thickness of the forests, the managerial divisions of the Russians continued to operate, and they included many Jews who were experts in forest work.  These soldiers were cruelly attacked by gangs of Ukrainians.  With danger to their own lives, Jews from the town succeeded in bringing some of them out of the forests to the hospital in Rafalovka. 

It was a Friday.  That morning, I went to the town's teacher Mikolsky, whose wife was also a teacher in the town for many years, wishing to share with them the worry and fear that had overtaken the Jewish community with the new situation.  I had not been there long, when suddenly shots were fired at me from the other side of the municipality.   I immediately left their house and began to run toward my apartment and my family.  I found them all squeezed into a dark corner, drenched by a great fear.  While we were still frightened by the sounds of shooting and explosions, we suddenly heard strong kicks on the door.  The door quickly burst open and armed villagers came into the house.  They immediately spread out in all of the rooms and began a search.  Among them were several of my acquaintances, to whom I had extended help more than once.  These indeed did not feel comfortable, but there was one among them who did not hesitate at all.  He approached me and grabbed me by the hand.  When he saw the gold wedding ring on my finger, he began to pull it off.  He was prepared to break my finger.  I began to scream with pain, and at that moment my wife hurried to give them her ring, and with pleas she asked them to take everything, they should just leave us alone.  Indeed, they took everything that they wanted, and while doing so they threatened us and reminded us that we should know that our good years were over and now we would have to pay for them. 

Nevertheless, the feelings of the rest of our acquaintances among the rioters, to whom, during peaceful times I had extended help in hours of need or illness, were stirred when they saw us now, helpless and broken.  Some kind of feeling of remorse awakened in them and they ordered the rioters to leave the house.  They ordered us to close the doors very well and not to allow anyone to enter while at the same time they stealthily slipped away, but they didn't let loose their booty.  We thanked G-d also for this kindness.  We closed the doors and the shutters, and looked outside through the cracks.  At that moment we heard the crying and weeping voices of women and children, mixed with the sounds of rifle shots and the wild screams of the doers of violence.  We saw many wagons of the villagers, full of Jewish property – all kinds of bedding, leaving the town, and in the streets – broken housewares and feathers flying around.

After the villagers satisfied their first thirst for blood and left the town, it was quiet outside.  I slowly opened the door and carefully went out into the street to see what they had done.  First, I went to our neighbor Rosenfeld, and a horrible picture was revealed to me.  All of the furniture in the house was broken and mixed with the other household goods, in a single pile – a heap of shards and pieces.  The members of the Rosenfeld family sat among the wreckage, pale and silently crying.  It was as if their speech had been taken away; they weren't able to say even a syllable. 

I understood that the same fate had certainly visited other towns, but there was no way to contact them.  I was very worried about the fate of the Jews in Vladimirets, where the members of my family, my relatives and my friends, lived.  The good days had fled, when it was possible to travel from Rafalovka to Vladimirets as a pleasant excursion.  Now, there was no way I could get to Vladimirets.  Death also waited for the Jew when he sat, hidden, in his house, not to mention when he went out on the road.  Therefore, I hired a goy, gave him a letter, and sent him to Vladimirets to find out the situation there.

Many of the residents of Rafalovka were certain that after the robberies on Friday, the doers of violence would say "enough," and that from now on, it would be quiet.  But their wish was in vain.  One day, I and Yona Rosenfeld sat with the Rebbe from Lomazh, which is next to Brisk, the son-in-law of Rabbi  Pasamnik from Rafalovka, who had fled from the Germans during the conquest of Poland and remained with us.  We found a cure and a small comfort for our wounds in sitting with the Rabbi.  We heard his utterance of ethics and his compassion – his mouth produced words of wisdom and logic.  With his words, he surveyed the history of our nation up to now – proving to us that everything that happened to us was no more than a link in the chain of suffering.  Here, in the middle of the conversation, we heard a terrible cry of despair.  When we went outside, we saw a large group of Jews running in fright, and as they ran, they informed us, with quickened breath, that a large gang of rioters was crossing the Styr River and approaching the town.  I and Yona Rosenfeld just managed to enter our houses and call the members of our families.  We also were swept up with all those who were running.  Within the general confusion, I lost the members of my family, and only my son Natan, of blessed memory, remained with me, along with Yona and his little daughter Feigele.

Looking behind us, we saw that many goyim stood on the hill overlooking the town, armed with all kinds of weapons.  A large herd of horses crossed our path, a herd that goyim we knew were bringing back from pasture.  I asked the shepherd if he would help us somehow, and he agreed.  At first, we mixed ourselves into the herd, and after that, the shepherd told us to run toward the forest.  The rioters would not be able to shoot at us, because they didn't want to harm the horses.  In addition, they could not be certain that we indeed were Jews.  After we distanced ourselves from the horses, the shepherd told the rioters that we were local Christians who had gone to call their herds from pasture.  Because of that, the rioters didn't chase after us. 

Meanwhile, we arrived in the forest.  It was already getting toward evening and darkness descended quickly.  From a distance, we saw a cottage with a light, and we approached it.  The barking dogs alarmed the owner of the cottage.  He came out to meet us, and received us with friendliness.  He proposed that we go into his cowshed to hide there during the night.  We were afraid to go into his house, so as not to arouse suspicion.  We sat crowded into a corner of the cowshed.  Feigele, Rosenfeld's little daughter, summed up all the fear of the situation with her words: 

"I wish I really was a feigele (in other words, a bird with wings).  I wish I could fly away from these bad men!"

So she sat and so she stated.

At hearing her words, our hearts broke within us, the hearts of parents who cannot protect their children.  Again, we heard the dogs barking, and when we peeped out through the cracks of the cowshed, we saw thickening smoke and flames going up from the direction of our town Rafalovka.  Our hearts were lost within us.  What was the fate of our families, we asked ourselves, without knowing how to answer this terrible question.

With the morning light, we decided to try our luck and return to town.  We were told that the doers of violence had left, after they rioted to their satisfaction.  We went with trembling hearts.  We found the members of our families, and all of them were well.  Our emotion was great, and now we promised each other that in the future, we would stay together and not leave each other.

That same day, a response reached us from Vladimirets.  The message was short.  I was informed that days of rioting had also visited Vladimirets.  The rioters were the goyim who lived in the town and the nearby area; my eldest brother was seriously injured and in the hospital.  We were very worried.  We wanted to know more details of what had happened, but here also, we had to accept the situation. 

Days of fear and sleepless nights passed over us.  We always were on guard in order to be in advance of evil.  We sent the children away from the house to stay with goyim we knew, but my wife, Zelda and I decided to remain and not to leave the house. 

My mother-in-law, Golda Leah, of blessed memory, always wanted to be with us.  Zelda respected her mother a great deal and watched over her always.  Therefore, she left Vladimirets and came with us to Rafalovka.  But now, when times were turned upside-down and dangers awaited and threatened us, she told us: 

"My children, I am already old and all I wish for is that it will be good for you, and that you will succeed in getting through the bad times.  My wish is that you bring me to Vladimirets, where all the members of my family are located.  When my time comes, I want to be buried in the Vladimirets cemetery, in the city where I was born, where my relatives and friends found their rest.  So please do this kindness for me and move me back to Vladimirets."

That is how, from time to time, she made her request.

We fulfilled her wishes, but only after some time.  Meanwhile, she remained with us and stood up to all of the bitter trials that we endured.

Rafalovka was sunk into fear of riots and bloodshed for over three weeks.  We were abandoned and downtrodden.  They spit in our faces, and they even took us to their farms for forced labor.  The Ukrainians told of incidents of brutality:  how a Jew was harnessed to a plow and they ordered him to pull it instead of a horse.  They had various plans as to how to eliminate us, long before the Germans arrived in the town. 

A Delegation

We, a number of Jews, decided to turn to important people among the Christians, to their people of merit, and request a bit of compassion from them.  My friend Yona Rosenfeld and I turned to the head of the Christian church and other Ukrainians whom we knew had influence.  We poured out bitter words to them, even though we knew that the Ukrainian intelligentsia was directing the rioters and their deeds, but we had no choice.  We told ourselves: perhaps we should give the keys to the robber himself, and then some sort of conscience would awaken within him.  Therefore, we asked them to influence the Ukrainian community to stop their bloody actions against us.  They listened to what we said; they indeed were honest with us and promised to try to calm spirits and restore order.  Even though we knew that the real rulers, the Germans, were going to come in the near future, and all of our achievement was destined to be erased, nevertheless, we were happy with the promise from the people of influence among the Ukrainians.

The Germans did not hurry to come at all.  They stayed at the Rafalovka train station, which was at a distance from the town, and the town itself was left meanwhile to the murderous deeds of others.  We also went to the German regime to pour out our hearts, because we knew that evil plans against us were being made on the part of the village population in the area.

In those days, when death waited in ambush, it was not a simple matter to go 18 kilometers to the train station, but we went out on the road.  This trip had another purpose also – to meet with the Jewish families who lived at New Rafalovka and learn their situation.  Our delegation numbered nine people:  Yona Rosenfeld, Yitzchak Shirman, Hershel Shirman, Yitzchak Kreizer, Benyamin Reznik, Mendel Kushner, Nechemia Schwartzblatt, Eliezer Goldberg and myself, the writer of these lines.

We walked quickly, even though we were worn out by the troubles that had come to us during the last few weeks.  We walked on the beautiful road that was so well-known to us from peaceful times.  But now, we did not pay attention to the beauty of the surrounding view.  We were sunk within our world, a world that was collapsing without any glory or grandeur.  Suddenly we heard the tumult of vehicles travelling in our direction.  We walked faster, so as not to meet up with the travelling farmers, but how fast could we go?  Very quickly, the goyim caught up with us.  When they drove past us, they pulled out pistols and ordered us to shout "Heil Hitler!" and asked us where we were going.  I answered them that we were called by the German officer at the train station to come to him about something.  When they heard the name of the German officer, they put away their weapons, turned their horses in a different direction, and rode away.  After that it became clear that this was a Polish gang from the colonies in the area, who had intended to rob the Jews at the station, but the knowledge that a German officer was there caused them to cancel their plans. 

After the labor and troubles of the trip, we, the delegation, arrived at the Rafalovka train station.  A deathly silence spread over New Rafalovka.  We remembered the place that, in the past, had been lively with Jewish activities, a place of many preparations, where Jewish business and tradesmen ruled.  Now, we found empty streets, windows broken and closed with rags and boards.  Not a sign remained of the Jewish houses of trade and firms.  Their portion was robbery and violence. Indeed, the same fate that had visited us, had also visited the Jewish residents of the station. Here, they told us about the riots that had taken place there; about Sanya Miniuk's son, who was wounded by the rioters, but the local doctor refused to help him and he died after great suffering.  Hershel and Sanya Brezniak were very surprised at our decision to ask for kindness from the Germans, and they prevented us from doing so.  We decided, therefore, to set up a delegation from among us, the arrivals, and the local residents, and to present our petitions to the heads of the Ukrainian population: the local doctor Popov, Mikolsky and Mikoleichik.  Our request was that they influence the Ukrainian population to stop their robberies and murders.  And even though we knew that we were turning to dedicated anti-Semites, blood-thirsty Ukrainians, nevertheless we had no other way… Our visit with them was very short.  They did not even want to listen to our claims and requests.  Their answer was also perfectly short: 

"You Jews deserve everything that happens to you.  This is your reward."

We left them with anguished hearts…

Now, news reached us of what was happening in the area.  The same things repeated themselves in every place – robbery and murder.  Among other things, we found out what had happened in the little town of Sarnik – a place where the goyim had been especially brutal toward the Jews.  They threw little children into the wells, burned and raped.  But in this little town, the young Jews awoke to avenge the spilled blood.  A large group of the youths was organized and they stood in the breach and responded with battle:  With cold weapons such as axes, pitchforks and metal rods, and also with a few firearms, a rifle or pistol, that had been hidden by them until the proper time, these lads drove the rioters out of the town.

At that time, when we were spiritually degraded, economically destroyed, our eyes dimmed and our faces drained of blood – at that time I suddenly received an order from the Germans to restore order and reconstruct my pharmacy and the clinic that I had established in peaceful times.  Thus I became the Jew who worked as a pharmacist for the Germans.  The synagogues were reopened at that time, and the Jews began to consult together at prayer time; in that way one could pour out his bitterness to a friend.  In the merit of the town's teacher, Misha Konczewicz, who invested his best strength and energy in filling the breach, a militia was established in the town.  Some sort of order prevailed, and life returned to normal, if it can be expressed that way.

In spite of all this, one clear morning we saw that a large cavalcade of farmers' wagons had entered our town, all of them armed with rifles.  They gathered in the empty lot between my house and Yona Rosenfeld's house.  At first we thought they were militia men who had come from other places, but when they began to spread out in the town and look around with murderous, greedy eyes as if they were experienced and accustomed to do so, fear of what was to come awoke again in the homes of the Jews, because these newcomers did not meet first with the local militia, which was responsible to the German regime.

We sensed that there was no connection between these men and the men of the militia who were responsible for order, and we didn't know what was happening here and how to interpret it, until Misha Konczewicz and his police began to interfere with the uninvited guests' wandering about that way in the town, and even took away their weapons.  The others, when they saw that a strong hand was shown against them, fled for their lives, leaving the wagons and horses behind.  After that it became clear that these were villagers from districts farther away, who had come to enjoy the anarchy.  They were notorious murderers also in peaceful times, residents of the villages Sarchov and Karasin.

Indeed, it was a praiseworthy revelation on the part of the men of the local militia, but the quiet was leaving us.  The High Holidays approached.  On Rosh HaShana, the entire Jewish congregation gathered in the synagogue to pour out its heart and tearful prayers of supplication before He Who Dwells on High.  Suddenly, we were upset by cries that reached us.  The synagogue quickly filled with beaten and wounded women and children, who had escaped here from all corners of the town.  It turned out that a gang of villagers had passed through the town, and while they did so they wanted to "play a game."  The matter cost us many wounded.  Now, we were very worried that the militia had no real control and that we could expect bloody surprises every day.

Stupefying News and Decrees

But we worried in vain.  It was as if the German regime had forgotten us.  One day, we received an order to come and present ourselves to the authorities at the Rafalovka train station, for the purpose of choosing a Jewish committee [Judenrat] that would be responsible to the regime.  No one wanted to be the representative of the Germans in this position, and choosing the committee encountered refusal by everyone, until finally a committee was accepted.  The regime itself determined the members of the committee:  Yaakov Weissman, Yaakov Bas and Yona Rosenfeld.  But when we came to present ourselves before the institutions of the regime, I was taken off the list, because they accepted my excuse that I was busy in the pharmacy and could not also fill this position.  Yaakov Rabin was chosen in my place.

On Erev Yom Kippur [the day before Yom Kippur], after we were informed that Germans were approaching the town and a great fear ruled over the synagogue – the order came that every Jew from the age of 9 up was immediately obligated to wear two round yellow patches – one patch on the chest, and the second on the back.  Non-compliance with this order would be punished by a fine of 1,000 rubles and forced labor.  We did not have time to hesitate.  All of the women worked together in a search for yellow fabric.  The Ukrainians were already standing in the streets and making sure that everyone who came out to the street was decorated with the mark of disgrace.  The insult was aimed specifically at this day, at Yom Kippur, in order to degrade us more strongly. 

Now, urgent decrees came one after the other, each one worse than the other.  There was forced labor in the forests and at the Ukrainians' farms.  And the news from the fronts – "the Yekkim are going from success to success" – also joined the other things that only depressed our spirits and proved to us that our fate was sealed.

And here, there was a new piece of news that came only to me, brought by a goy who was one of my good acquaintances.  It struck me with stupefaction.

All of the Jews of Rowne were murdered.

I could not believe that this news was true, that indeed, the Jews of Rowne – over 30,000 – had been destroyed.  I did not tell this news to anyone, not even the members of my family.  I contacted my Christian friends and asked them to go to Rowne and bring me details.  But the news I received from them was even more terrible – there was mass murder not only in Rowne, but also in the other cities of the area.  Now, the matter was no secret; everyone knew about it.

One day in the month of Shvat [corresponding roughly to January-February], I received news from my brother Yerachmiel in Vladimirets that our mother was very ill and wanted to see me.  My wife and I went out on the road without a permit.  A friend, a goy, drove us on side roads, and so we arrived in Vladimirets.  When we came into the house, we found there our relative Sima Levin, Yitzchak Levin's wife.  She told us that Ima (mother) was very ill, but she was fully conscious and had requested previously that they would come to say Vidui [confession of sins] with her.  We went into her room, and when she saw us, she was encouraged and tried to calm us: 

"Don't worry, my children," she said in her weak voice.  "It is also possible to live more after the Vidui."

She was interested in knowing about our house and children. 

Toward evening, her condition worsened and the time of her death approached.  A few minutes later, she closed her eyes forever.

The funeral was held the next morning.  It was a cold, snowy winter day.  There were few mourners, because of the days of emergency, about a minyan [10] Jews and no more.  I remember Shlomo Appelboim, Chaim Kantor, Zvi Zhuk, the Dik family, my brothers Yerachmiel and Benyamin and their families, and Yaakov Eisenberg.  After the funeral, we sat "shiva" according to the rule, but only in a symbolic way, because of the emergency situation, and we returned to Rafalovka…

Up until now, our suffering had come from the Ukrainian population.  From now on, the direct operations of the Germans began – all kinds of taxes and fees.  First, there was a head tax – 5 gold rubles per person.  This tax was too heavy to bear, and we encountered terrible difficulties in gathering it.  In a meeting that was held in Rabbi Pasamnik's house with the important people in the congregation and members of the Jewish council, it was decided to declare an embargo on the community – every Jew will therefore be obligated to confess and reveal his possessions. 

The entire Jewish population was invited to come to the synagogue of the Stepan Chassidim on the banks of the river.  Here, the heads of the community spoke of the situation and its seriousness.  Many people requested not to put the town under such a trial as imposing an embargo, but there was no choice.  In the ensuing silence, black candles were lit, the holy ark was opened, and the Rabbi, dressed in a white kittel [surplice] and wrapped in his tallit [prayer shawl], his voice trembling with tears and with him all of those gathered burst into tears and a great weeping, now began the preparation of the list – the details of each person's possessions. 

After that there were requests from the Germans to supply them with fabrics, wool covers, leather for shoes, and various other commodities. 

The second contribution was 5 gold rubles per person and 7 grams of silver, again and again.  Once, a platoon of German soldiers, headed by an officer, came to the Jewish council at the Rafalovka train station and decreed that Zelig Lesnik must immediately give them a kilogram of cocoa, and when he asked them to wait until he could obtain it, the officer pulled out his pistol and hit Zelig in the face, breaking most of his teeth.  The other members of the council were also beaten until the blood flowed. 

We were worn out and depressed, completely impoverished.  We looked like shadows.  And here was a new decree – the decree of the ghetto.

A Visit in Vladimirets

The order to establish the ghetto was received on May 1, 1942.  Within two weeks, all of the Jews living in Rafalovka and the surrounding villages were obligated to be concentrated in the ghetto, in order to separate them from the non-Jewish population.  Proposals were made by the farmers that I remain in the pharmacy and continue to serve the public.  One of my friends, the miller Protoliuk, agreed to drive me to Sarny to the area governor to ask him for a permit for me to remain in the town.  We travelled in a horse-drawn wagon, because Jews were forbidden to travel by train.  He wrapped me in a farmer's coat that covered the yellow patches, so that it would not be recognizable that I was a Jew.  This was a dangerous trip, but the goy showed resourcefulness and initiative, and he refrained from meeting Germans on the road. 

I entered Sarny.  I was amazed.  It was no longer the happy town with a good atmosphere I had known in the past.  Now it looked like a cemetery.  That same day, I met with Taczvikov, the doctor from Sarny, with whom I had worked during the days of the Soviets and who was now appointed by the Germans as the district doctor.  He advised me not to report to the German officer, who hated Jews, and promised me that he himself would do it instead.  When I met him at the time we had appointed, he already had the permit in his hand, written in German, stating that the Jew Yaakov Bas, the pharmacist, was given permission to remain in the town of Rafalovka and manage the pharmacy.  But the members of his family were obligated to remain in the ghetto.  The goy who accompanied me was happy at the achievement, because there were no Christians in the town who knew how to manage a pharmacy.  But I was very depressed.  How could I separate from the members of my family? 

I asked my friend the goy to bring me to Vladimirets on our return journey.  I wanted to see my friends and acquaintances, the members of my family, and my relatives.  My sudden arrival in Vladimirets surprised everyone very much.  At my request, the goy brought the wagon into the yard of my brother-in-law, Ben-Zion Zhuk, and he waited patiently until I was able to see all of my family's relatives.  I showed them the permit that I received in Sarny and requested their opinions regarding the entire matter.  Members of the Tscherniak family were there, and also the intelligent and wise-hearted Yaakov Eisenberg, who was both my friend and relative.  I asked Yaakov if it was important for one Jew to remain outside the ghetto and work in the pharmacy?  And how was it possible for me to part from my family?  And when everyone had already come to agree to the general opinion that in times like these one should not part from his family and leave them alone, suddenly the serious, cool-minded Yaakov Tscherniak spoke up and said:

"My dears, don't you know the meaning of your decision and opinion?  No, I do not agree with you that Yaakov also has to go to the ghetto, at a time when he has the possibility of staying outside it.  At this time, when they are planning to close up all the Jews in ghettos and there is a possibility for one of us to be outside the ghetto, don't you know how important and how valuable this is?  He is not going to improve his situation and it will not be easy for him in this forest of Ukrainians, with whom all of us are very familiar.  But he will be free, with no supervision of the guards, and all of us need such a thing, because who knows what will happen?  The importance of one Jew outside the ghetto cannot be estimated."

I heard these words and I already was confused.  I didn't know what I would choose and how I would act.  Slowly, everyone changed their opinion and accepted Yaakov's opinion.

It was difficult for me to part from my dear ones, whom I did not merit to see again.  This was a kind of parting forever.  We shook hands with each other and shed many tears.  It was as if each one felt what was expected to happen to us, but no one expressed it specifically.  This was my parting forever from Vladimirets, where I had spent many years of my life. 

I Remained Alone

I remained alone in the big house.  The entire Jewish population, including my family, was concentrated in the ghetto.  A great depression ruled over me the first day, but I thought that maybe there would nevertheless be some importance to my situation.  I decided to overcome my discouragement and begin to work.  At night, my depression grew stronger – one, lone Jew.  Every whisper of sound frightened me; every step in the street threatened me.  The sound of the singing of the Ukrainians, who now sat on the benches next to their houses celebrating our destruction, drove me mad.

I went to one of the goyim, the shoemaker Kabilensky.  He suggested that I come to him every night to sleep and rest.  Indeed, it was forbidden for me to close the pharmacy, but I did it anyway.  When I returned in the morning, I found a long line of people outside the door waiting for medicines, as there had been in the past.  From time to time, I would receive notes from my family, and this calmed me a bit.  Good friends served as the contacts between us.   

The situation in the ghetto became worse.  The trading of food items grew.  It was forbidden for goyim to come into contact with the residents of the ghetto, but I was free to come and go.  I exploited this right, and began to store many food products.  On the eve of the Shavuot holiday, one goy took all of this reserve and brought it to the ghetto.  At first, the goy was afraid to get involved in this adventure.  But the amount of money that was promised him drew his heart nevertheless.  In addition, I told him that I would also travel with him, and I succeeded in arousing trust in his heart that I apparently had permission to do so.  We traveled in zig-zags, in spite of the trust I had proven toward him.

Here I met the members of my family, who were living, 30 souls – 6 families – in one apartment.  My wife knew how to divide the food products I brought in a just manner between all those who needed them.  My time was limited.  Nevertheless, I tried to stay longer and longer.  Now, we came to the general conclusion that my remaining in Rafalovka had a great value.  Here I met with members of the council, and we raised the possibilities of working outside the ghetto.  For that purpose, I visited the teacher Malinowsky, who had once taught in Vladimirets and was now appointed over the forestry work in the vicinity.  He promised me to organize Jews in the work.  That had a great value, to be freed for a time from the fences of the ghetto and go out to freedom.  Many jumped at the opportunity to go out to work.

Also when we lived in the ghetto, the Germans and Ukrainians made us suffer.  That is how Moshe Bondes was arrested one day and cruelly tortured.  When he left the prison his back was black from the beatings he had received.  The Ukrainian police stopped their attacks for a time only after they were bribed.  One day we were ordered to supply them with a huge amount of pepper, coffee and the like within two hours. 

Many times, the Germans prepared an exact list of the population in the ghetto.  These lists were sent to Sarny, to the offices of the regional government.  An order arrived that all of the residents of the ghetto were obligated to present themselves at the market square, for the purpose of  investigating whether the lists were appropriate to the actual number of residents.  Everyone had to go, including people who were sick, with no exceptions.  The roll call passed peacefully.  At this roll call, the names of those who were at work were mentioned, including my name and the name of my son.  We were not in the ghetto at that hour.

Many residents of the ghetto were sent to forced labor in the various forests and farms.  Similarly, about 60 Jews, among them many women, were sent as laborers next to the bridge over the Styr River.  The bridge had been bombed by the Russians when they withdrew, and now a new bridge was being built.  The Jewish police, who were responsible to the regime, guarded the Jews who went out to work and made sure that they returned to the ghetto.  Going outside the ghetto allowed them to bring a bit of food into the ghetto, which was now living in actual hunger.  In the ghetto, the daily portion of bread per person was only 100 grams.  Many people were swollen with hunger.  Those who went out to work were helped to obtain food mainly from the Polish colonialists, who were brothers in trouble and also suffered from the hand of the oppressor.

There were incidents in which a Pole met a Jew of his acquaintance and wanted to speak to him, and when the matter was revealed to the Germans, the Pole was beaten very cruelly.   We also received news from the Poles of the situation on the fronts.  Now, we already knew that a second front was being organized and that the hopes of defeating the oppressor were getting stronger in the world.  This kind of news would be told and talked of in Yechiel Weingarten's house in the ghetto, where the men would gather to pray.  This was a weak ray of light in our dark skies. 

One day in the month of Av [roughly, July-August], a platoon of Germans came to the Czartarisk station, six miles from New Rafalovka.  They took the Jews out of their homes and concentrated them in one place.  The 60 Jews from Rafalovka, who had been working next to the bridge, also were brought to the concentration place.  Several Jews, such as Malchiel Shirman and his sister, who knew what was waiting for them, tried to escape at the time of the transport and threw themselves into the river so as to swim across.  But they were shot and killed by the Ukrainians.  All the rest were imprisoned in one house.  The prisoners knew what awaited them, because they had already seen the large pits that had been dug at the order of the Germans next to the forest.  Their crying and begging had no effect on the Ukrainians.  But there was not only crying there; there were also revelations of bravery and honorable resistance.  Thus, for example, it is told of the elderly Mordechai Rottenberg, who suddenly stood up straight, and from a hiding place in his clothes he quickly took out a roll of money and called out:

"You are despicable murderers.  You are thirsty for our property and not only our blood.  Here, look and see!"

And then he tore the bills into little pieces. 

Similarly, Esther Rosenfeld, Yona Rosenfeld's daughter, showed wonderful resistance.  She cursed the murderers emphatically and prophesized that their black and bitter end would certainly come.   

All these events were told to us, afterward, by farmers who had been employed by the Germans next to the graves that were dug and were witnesses to the murder. 

I Tried to Help My Daughter Escape

The news about the Jews of the station struck us with amazement.  I now could not remain alone.  I didn't find a place for myself.  On the afternoon of the Sabbath, I decided to go to the ghetto to see my family.  In the ghetto they already knew what had happened, and many people sat and cried over their dear ones who had been lost together with the Jews of Czartarisk.  That night, I remained in the ghetto to sleep.

The next morning, Sunday, it was as if nothing had happened.  Again, the Germans requested 60 Jews to work at the bridge.  Now, nobody jumped at the chance to go out to work.  The Jewish council sent a memorandum to Sarny and the vicinity about the terrible situation, but the answer that came from there was:  the murder of 60 workers originated in a misunderstanding that occurred and those responsible will be punished; however, you are obligated to send 60 other workers.  Among those now sent to the bridge of blood was my son Natan.  That day, I was unable to return to the pharmacy to work.  I remained in the ghetto, waiting for my son's return.  In the evening, when the workers returned, my son among them, we began to believe that what the Germans had said was true and that there had been a misunderstanding.  But we knew that the sword was turning over us.

I decided to make an attempt to help my daughter Rivkele escape from the ghetto.  I wanted her to be with me in the pharmacy.  She was still a little girl.  In addition, I wanted to speak with the council regarding a permit to bring my entire family to me.  The other residents of the house did not show any objection or embarrassment at this attempt.  In the house in the ghetto where they lived, there also was a bunker and they believed that their safety was greater there than in my pharmacy.  The bunker was a hidden cell that could contain at most 10 people, and there were 30 people in the house.  The entrance to the hiding place was through the niche under the stove.  I tried very hard to bring my family to Rafalovka, and I didn't succeed.  Therefore, I decided to do it clandestinely – to secretly take my daughter out of the ghetto.  The last night that I spent in the ghetto, I could not sleep.  My daughter Rivkele also did not close her eyes.  She was very afraid of the ghetto, and believed that she was safer with her Abba.

At dawn, we got up and prepared to leave.  Ima made a small bundle for Rivkele, containing several tunics, a dress and a white head scarf.  We arrived at the place of exit, but the Jewish policeman who was guarding the gate of the ghetto did not allow Rivkele to go out without a permit.  All of my wife and son's begging and crying did not help.  Rivkele stood at the side weeping, but all this was in vain.  I could not stay there.  I had to return to the pharmacy.  I promised Rivkele that I would not rest and would not be quiet, and that I would return the following Sunday to take her.  I parted from my dear ones and ran quickly to Rafalovka.  I sat on the fence of my house and told my son who was with me my impressions of the ghetto and everything I had seen during the past two days, and of my attempt to take Rivkele out, but suddenly I was upset by my son David's call: 

"Here, Rivkele is coming.  Look over there, toward the hill!"

And indeed, when I turned to look toward the hill, I saw Rivkele coming toward us.  We quickly got up and ran to meet her.  She was pale and breathing heavily.  The three of us hugged each other with emotion and tears.  We brought her to the house, and here we found out the details of what had happened. 

When I went out of the ghetto, my son Natan came with me to accompany me for a distance.  He was allowed to go out of the ghetto because he worked for the Jewish council and would go on various errands for them.  We walked together and spoke for a while, until he went back.  When he returned to the entrance of the ghetto, he found Rivkele still sitting and waiting in one of the corners next to the fence.  He wanted to take her home in the ghetto but she refused to go.

"No, I won't go to the ghetto.  Everything there frightens me.  I want to be with Abba." 

Rivkele also told Natan that she thought that the policeman guarding the gate had fallen asleep, and she asked him to help her pass through the fence.  So it was.  She quickly passed through the fence and Natan followed; he accompanied her for a distance and then returned to the ghetto.  Rivkele ran 12 kilometers through the fields and forests, borne by a hidden strength, until she arrived in Rafalovka.  Now, there were three members of my family outside the ghetto… 

And again, this time when the outside workers returned to the ghetto, I turned to those with influence, asking them to allow my wife and son to join us.  This time also, they sent me back empty-handed.  But I was sure that my son and my wife would exploit the first opportunity, and at a sign of danger would come to us.  At that time, the number of workers outside the ghetto was increased.  They would return to the ghetto after a week of labor.  Among them were the above-mentioned 60 workers.  During the week, they stayed in Old Rafalovka, and some of them lived in my house.

The Calamity Draws Closer 

On August 23, 1942, a Sunday, which was not a workday, I stood in my pharmacy, preparing medicine for the wife of the Polish teacher Kuntzewicz.  I suddenly saw a carriage drawn by two beautiful horses stopping next to the municipality building, Bindes' house.  Two German soldiers got out of the carriage.  My heart began to beat faster.  I stood and looked in their direction.  After a short time, the two turned toward the pharmacy.  They came inside, and I became paralyzed by fear.  I could not speak a syllable.  I didn't find the strength to answer their questions.  My thoughts became confused; my hands did not obey me and my eyes became darkened.  They left the pharmacy and after a short time, I also went out to find out the purpose of their arrival.  I asked one of the Ukrainians who had some influence, and I didn't receive an answer.  But then some farmers spread the confidential news that 80 famers had been requested to come with shovels to dig pits.  Among the goyim there were those who said specifically:  "We are going to dig pits for the Zhids [Jews]!"

We knew that danger was approaching and that we had to remain aware.  We gathered together all those who worked outside the ghetto in order to consult with each other.  We decided that each one would be vigilant, also during the time he was working, and would watch over what was happening around him with "seven eyes."

The night between Sunday and Monday, I didn't sleep at all.  I didn't sleep, nor did my children, or even the neighbors, the forced-laborers who were living with us.  Among them was Yona Rosenfeld's daughter Fania.  Didn't the residents of the ghetto know what was happening?  This question struck me and didn't allow me to rest.  I had promised my family that at a time of danger I would notify them and call for them.  And now, how could I fulfill my promise?  I turned over plans in my mind and contemplated how to reach the ghetto, but I couldn't find a method of communication.  And now it was dawn.

Suddenly, a farmer came in, and when he saw me and my neighbors, he excitedly called out:

"Why are you standing here?  Don't you know that next to Sukhovolya they are already digging death pits?  Flee, to wherever you can, and save yourselves!  Every moment is precious!"

We understood that danger was at the door.  Immediately we chose two Jews:  Leizer Vacha and Pesach Bindes, to go to the ghetto as secretly as possible, to inform them of the situation.  My son David didn't want to go out to work that day.  That day, I sent the miller – he was the Christian who helped me previously to get the permit to work in the pharmacy – and the police officer, who travelled to the ghetto, to bring my family a sack of flour.  By doing that, I had the intention of showing that we didn't know a thing and were acting as usual.  I also attached a letter, in which I hinted to them about the approaching danger and the need to be vigilant in order to be saved and come to us.  I gave the letter to the miller and asked him to do everything he could to help.  The wagon left for the ghetto at 10 o'clock in the morning.  I waited for an answer, and meanwhile I began to carry out a plan that I had made during the night: 

In 1934, when I built my home in Rafalovka, I constructed a special underground section that was 13 meters long, with a hidden entrance.  When the days of emergency came upon us, I had made an effort to prepare this place in advance, and I stored food and water there.

I waited for an answer from the ghetto, and did not receive one.  I hurried to the post office, where one of my friends worked, and I telephoned Weissman at the train station and asked him about the situation.  His answer was "save yourselves."  He was unable to say more to me, because the Ukrainian policeman came in just then and the connection was cut off. But the three words that I received were enough for me.  I returned home and ordered everyone to go into the hiding place. 

I remained in the house in order to survey the situation.  I was looking outside and waiting for the wagon to come back from the ghetto.  And now, I saw that the wagon indeed returned; a police officer got out of the wagon and went into his office.  I managed to leave the house and approach the miller, who had accompanied the wagon.  He informed me that the entire ghetto was surrounded by German guards and that they did not allow him to enter.

"So therefore you know what to do," said the miller.

I went back into the house, and here, Mottel Katzen, one of the forest workers, came in excitedly.  He had been sent by the rest of the workers to inform me of the situation.  I spoke to him briefly: 

"Run to the forest and tell everyone to save themselves, because the calamity is approaching!"

I myself locked the pharmacy and glued a note on the door, written in Russian:

"I travelled to Sarny to bring medical supplies and the pharmacy is closed for a number of days."

I left the kitchen door open, so there would be no suspicion that we had hidden ourselves here.  I took my tallit and tefillin [prayer shawl and phylacteries] and went down to the hiding place.  We heard shots from a rifle, and I understood that they were aimed at Jews.  After a few minutes, we heard pounding and we knew that they were breaking down the door of the house and coming inside.  We heard their footsteps above us.  Afterwards, we heard them leave.  They closed the doors and sealed all the entrances with hammers and nails.  Afterwards, we heard the rattling of a wagon approaching the house.  People came in and took out the entire supply of food that we had prepared for the residents of the ghetto.  In the evening when it got dark, they visited the house again, and we heard footsteps above us.  To our great amazement, we heard the footsteps coming downstairs and approaching our hiding place.  They tried to light a splinter of wood so as to see, but a miracle certainly occurred and the splinter was extinguished.  We pressed ourselves together, in great fear.  We held our breaths, so as not to reveal ourselves, and again, we heard footsteps and the pounding of hammers.  They were energetically closing all the windows and doors.  Now, we also heard a conversation from the house's fence, where a guard had been placed on behalf of the police to guard the pharmacy so it would not be robbed.  We sat very tensely all night, until daylight.  We did not hear the voices of the police at the fence again. 

Now, Fania took a piece of matzo out of her pocket.  She told us that this was the Afikoman [a piece of matzo that is hidden during the Passover seder] that her father had given her, saying that this matzo had the power to protect her from all evil.  She broke the matzo into pieces and divided it among us, as a protection from the dangers that were likely to visit us.

Like the Shadows of Ghosts

Toward evening, when it got dark, after sitting for 33 hours in the bunker, we decided to leave our hiding place.  We knew that it was forbidden for us to remain there.  I went out first.  I broke one of the windows and went out into our garden.  Everyone else followed.  We remained lying in the flowerbeds, hidden in the greenery, until 1 o'clock in the morning.  Now, we divided ourselves into small groups.  I, my children and Yaakov Brik were one group.  We hurried to distance ourselves from the town.  We arrived at the yard of a friend, a goy, but he did not allow us to enter his house.  He only brought out some food to us – supplies for the road.  From here, we reached another house, and I stopped next to it.  A teacher in the school where my children learned together with her children, lived in this house.  I stood next to the wall of the house and I approached the window alone.  I knocked on the window slowly, and whispered:

"Kubelsky, save us!"

I heard a rustling in the house, and the door was quickly opened.  All of us were invited inside.  The children vacated their beds for us, and with much emotion and participation in our troubles, they covered their faces with their hands, so that they would not see us in our great tragedy.  Because it was very dangerous to remain in the house, they directed us to the cowshed.  There was a great deal of straw in the cowshed and we dug ourselves deep-deep into it, finding a hiding place.

We didn't close our eyes all night.  I lay next to my two precious children and my thoughts carried me to the ghetto.  What was the fate of my wife and son?  In this situation, no extension of help was possible.  With the dawn, I saw the elderly Kubelsky through the cracks of the cowshed, walking in the yard, sprinkling food for the chickens and preparing food for the cows.  Suddenly, the door of the cowshed was opened and the old lady hurried inside, bringing with her a basket full of food – vegetables, bread and milk.  She spoke to us in hints, with hasty movements of her hands – something that emphasized how great the danger was in this situation.

We stood in front of her, our eyes streaming with tears.  She approached my children, stroked their heads and whispered words of encouragement.  Now, I found an opportunity and I asked her if she knew of the situation in the ghetto.  She didn't know anything, but she promised that when her son returned from the city she would tell us everything he told her.  The daylight and the tension weakened our strength.  It was hard to lie in the straw.  We waited for night.  We felt safer in the dark.  We could go out for a short moment from our hole, stand up straight and breathe the world's air. 

That night, the owner of the house came to us and told us that the ghetto still existed but was surrounded by a guard of police and soldiers.  Several of the residents of the ghetto who had tried to escape had been shot.  He suggested that we look for a safer shelter.  I promised him to leave the place when it became dark. 

At midnight, when everything around was sunk into sleep, we went out of the cowshed together with Yaakov Brik.  We intended to go toward the village Varazh – a place where many of my acquaintances and friends were located. 

We came to the village.  The dogs were awake.  They sensed our presence and raised their voices in energetic barking.  But we succeeded nevertheless in entering the village.  I approached the house of one of my acquaintances.  I knocked lightly on the window.  No answer came.  At that time, fabricated stories circulated among the farmers, originating in superstitions that dead Jews rise from their graves and walk around during the night.  Who knows, perhaps they thought we were the shadows of ghosts from the World of Truth.  But we didn't have time to wonder and delve deeply into this.  We had to hurry and do something before the light of day.  So we went into their yard and went ourselves, without permission, into the granary, and lay down to rest.  In the morning, when the village woman came into the granary and saw us, she became very frightened and began to cross herself.  She remembered very well that I had once saved her life when she was ill.  She brought us food and said that her husband requested that we leave the place that night, because it was very dangerous for them, as well as for us.  She also told us that one of her neighbors saw us when we came there.  It is true that he was a good friend of mine and he even came to the granary and brought us some food.  But a secret that is revealed to many is no longer a secret.  We knew that it was forbidden for us to stay there, and we decided to leave the next night and return to Rafalovka. 

The Terrible News

That night, we went out of the granary and came to the house of another acquaintance.  He brought bread out to us and showed good will toward helping us.  When he heard that we were planning to return to Rafalovka, he prevented us from doing so.  His advice was that we should go to the forest, where we would be able to hide.  From here, we went to the house of the miller Protoliuk, where we found shelter.  He allowed us to go into his cowshed and hide.  He promised that the next night he would take us to the granary at the edge of the town; he would bring food to us there and would keep in contact with us.  And his place was indeed dangerous.  There was a lot of movement outside.  Goyim of my acquaintance walked back and forth.  We stayed in this cowshed for three days.  On the third night, the owner of the house came and brought us the terrible news that the residents of Rafalovka who lived in the ghetto had been murdered.  This happened on the Sabbath, the 15th of Elul, 5702 [August 2, 1942].

The specific order that it was forbidden for a Jew to be found in the Sarny district, and the danger awaiting all those who sheltered Jews, threw fear into the heart of the goy and he suggested that we find shelter in the forest.  According to what he said, this was a place where many surviving Jews were hiding.  We had no choice.  Again, we waited for the nighttime hours, but that night I was ruled by discouragement – after the horrible news of the elimination of the ghetto, I was sunk into helplessness and lack of will.  It was as if the will to live had been taken from me.  I could move neither hand nor foot.  The children saw me in this condition and they lay next to me and cried silently, whispering: 

"Abba, why are we waiting?  Look, it's getting late.  What has happened to you, Abba?" 

Suddenly, it was as if a new spirit passed over me.  I must do something, not for myself, but for my precious children; I am their only security.  I looked at my watch.  I felt a great awakening to life and to struggle.

"Come, children," I said.  "Come, we will go."

That night we arrived at the bank of the Styr River, with the intention of crossing the river and wandering far away from the Sarny district, as the miller had advised me.  But when we reached the river, we saw many blinking lights on its surface – lights that came from the fishing boats that went out to fish at night.  Also, the crossing was guarded.  Crossing the river at this place was, therefore, impossible.  We began to search for a crossing far away from here.  We wanted to cross the river by swimming, but we didn't find a safe place to do so.  Meanwhile, the skies began to turn grey and the dawn was about to burst forth.  We hurried to get away from the river and ran to Babka, the nearest village.  But here, there already were several villagers who were awake.  When they saw us, they began to threaten us and warned us not to dare to stay in their village.  They were frightened when they saw that Jews were walking around in their village, and in order to frighten us as well, they told us that there were police in the village.

The word "police" was enough to make our flesh creep and awaken hidden strengths within us to flee from the place.  We began to run, to escape with our lives.  We passed over fences and through gardens.  Chased by the barking of dogs, we ran without knowing where, until we came to a pine forest.  We ran deep into the forest.  We found one thick tree, and sat down to rest at its foot.  Here, where we could speak without interference, Rivkele's eyes filled with tears and she began to cry.

"How can I live without you, my dear mother and brother?  How can I live without you?"

We all sat and cried for a long time.  Again, dark despair ruled over me.  I didn't see any way to be saved.  I was sorry that I hadn't taken a bit of poison with me, to put an end to my life, so that I wouldn't have to undergo this trial, but my tiredness was greater than my thoughts of despair.  The strong, sharp smell of the forest had a great influence.  Our weariness could not stand up to the intoxicating smell, and we all quickly fell asleep under the tree.

We woke up.  And again I knew that I must struggle and struggle against the dangers surrounding us and even with myself, so that despair would not rule over me, Heaven forbid.  The pleasant autumn sun warmed us.  We stood up and began to walk.  We went deeper into the forest.  We wandered past swamps, without knowing where we were going.  Here, I took a thick stick from the branches of the forest, and this stick accompanied me also during the days to come.  After walking a great deal, we came to the edge of the forest.  We saw fields and blue smoke rising upward.  We understood that there was a settlement here.  The fields were full of fragrant cut fodder.  We tried to approach one of the cottages and were frightened by the anger of a pack of dogs that began to bark and break out toward us.  We saw that a woman was quieting the dogs and looking at us.  We began to approach here.  When she recognized us, she broke out into a great weeping and was unable to stop.  She hugged the children and kissed them, and brought us into her house.  She began to take care of the children; she washed them and gave them some food.  She cut Rivkele's hair, which was dirty and full of lice.  She comforted us and encouraged us not to lose the will to live.  She said that the end would come, that the Germans would pay for all of the blood they shed, but we must gather our strength and pass through the days of evil.  The night approached, and the farmer who owned the house told us that for our own good we must not remain in the house, but we should go to sleep in the barn where there were fresh piles of fodder.  He came out to accompany us and showed us the way to the nearby village where he thought there were a few Jews. 

Of Hatred and Compassion

We stayed there to sleep in the piles of fodder, until we were awakened by the barking of dogs and the crowing of roosters.  We got up and headed toward the village, as the farmer had showed us.  We did not go on the main roads, but on winding paths, on unmarked trails, past many swamps, so as to protect ourselves from surprises.  Many goyim wandered along the roads in those days, grabbing Jews and handing them over to the Germans for payment.

Leeches stuck to our bare feet and sucked a bit of the blood that still remained in us.  We knew many troubles on this path, and so we came near the village Sopachov.  Here also, I met a farmer whom I knew, who was very emotional at meeting me.  I always related to my customers with friendliness and politely.  I was always ready to give them assistance, as much as I could.  And now, I saw the fruit of this attitude.  Moved to tears, he brought us into his house, dried our clothes, gave us knapsacks full of food, and told us that in Sopachov Forest there were several Jews.  The farmer himself came out to accompany us and show us the place where the Jews were located. 

We were brought to a large meadow, all deep swamps.  At the end of the meadow there was a thick wood.  It was difficult to cross the swamps.  More than once, we sank into them and were rescued with danger to life.  We continued to walk.  But we could not reach the wood, and we had to retrace our steps.  We entered a garden and sat there among the plants.  Suddenly, a young villager appeared, and when he saw us, he began to speak words of comfort, to encourage us and to participate in our troubles.  We asked him if he would allow us to hide for a while on his farm.  He brought us to his house, and his mother welcomed us with hot potatoes and pickled cucumbers.  While we sat at the table, many of the village's young people gathered in the house.  They stood and looked at us with curiosity.  This upset us very much.  We did not want to remain in the house, and we asked the young villager to allow us to stay in the cowshed.  Again, we burrowed into piles of hay.  We were still lying there and thinking about the goyim, fearfully listening to every sound, when we heard footsteps coming toward the cowshed.  The door opened, and several of the youths came in and began to shout:

"Cursed Jews, get out of here immediately!" 

Our pleas did not help.  They dragged us out and said that they would hand us over to the authorities.  We tearfully begged them to leave us alone, that they should take our clothes and everything we had, but not our lives.  And indeed, they undressed us and left us only in our underwear.  Now, they allowed us to go back into the cowshed.  Almost naked, we lay there until the morning.  We went back into the house in order to warm ourselves a bit.  The woman knew what had happened and didn't ask us anything.  We left the house and went to the edge of the village.  Some villagers, acquaintances, saw us, and with pity they gave us some old clothes and the footwear called "lapchos."  We wandered in the vicinity of the village for a number of days, until we found a few Jews and joined their group. 

A Dugout in the Forest 

Autumn was at its height.  Heavy rains, even snow, began to fall.  At night, frost covered the ground.  Here, we met the barber, Yosef Zilberman, who had fled from the Rafalovka ghetto with his wife and children.  This was his second rescue.  First, he fled from Poland and lived in Rafalovka as a refugee, and now he had escaped from the ghetto.  He suggested that we find an appropriate place in the forest and build a bunker, where we could live and we would not have to ask for shelter in the yards of the farmers.  We remembered that there was a forester who lived nearby, whose name was Sanyashka.  He was known to be an honest man with progressive views.  His house stood in the middle of the forest, far from the village.

We arrived at his house.  He received us warmly.  He went with us to the forest and brought us to a path that led to Khuta Sopachov.  His advice was that we should go to that area and there we should build a bunker.  He gave us a lot of food, and thus we went out in that direction.  We arrived at the Polish town.  Here, I found many acquaintances, among them the feldsher Ivan Karabowicz, who was a noble man.  He told us that there were many Jews, survivors from Rafalovka, in the forest, and that the people of the town were helping them.  He suggested to us that we rest for a time in his house before we go out to the forest.  And again, we slept in the cowshed.  The place was isolated and the way there was complicated – the paths were through the swamps, and it was far from the German garrison. The next day, Karabowicz brought us to the forest.  Indeed, we did find many Jews from Rafalovka there, as well as Zalman Dik's son Yaakov, from Vladimirets.  They greeted us with welcome and honored us with the accepted food in the forest:  potatoes baked in a fire.  Another group of Jews arrived:  Yaakov Weissman and his two children, and his brother-in-law, Yaakov Sussel, the son of Yitzchak Sussel from Vladimirets.  They had succeeded in fleeing from the ghetto at the last moment.

We found an appropriate place to build the bunker.  We dug into the ground at a depth of one meter – at a length of three meters and a width of three meters.  After we finished installing our new "dwelling," Fania Rosenfeld arrived and she also joined our group.  She took care of our "household" and its cleanliness like a devoted mother.  But it was hard to get rid of the lice, which swarmed around us and on our bodies.

The Poles encouraged us and comforted us, so that our spirits would not fall.  This was a great support for us.  But some shepherds investigated our footprints, and it was forbidden for us to stay here.  We began to wander in the forest.  Fania parted from us.  She took her bag and went to the village Molczicz, where she was accepted by merciful farmers.

Heavy snow began to fall and to cover the paths and trees in the forest.  We came to a place in the thickness of the forest where there were many wooden beams – prepared building materials.  Nearby, there was also a well.  Weissman, who was the expert on forest matters, found a place appropriate for building a bunker.  The Polish colonists equipped us with tools – saws, axes and shovels – and we began to build.  We worked with the sweat of our brows for three weeks, until we had dug a large pit three meters deep, and in the pit we built a large stove, according to the one we had seen in other bunkers.  We camouflaged this building very well with dirt and branches, so that it would not be recognizable. 

Fania was concerned about us, and she occasionally brought us food from the village.  She invited me to come to visit in Molczicz, because I had many acquaintances there, and indeed, I did as she suggested.  But when I came to the village and sat in one of the houses, a young village girl came running in, and breathing quickly, she informed us that the police had arrived in the village.  They quickly took me to our traditional hiding place – the fodder.  But apparently the place was not sufficiently safe.  Suddenly I heard a wagon approaching the cowshed and the owner of the house called me to come out.  I went out fearfully.  The man of the house and his son stood next to the cowshed.  They ordered me to get into the wagon and travel with them.  Their purpose was to evade the police and take me out of the village.  They covered me with fodder, filling the wagon.  I didn't see a thing.  I only heard the squeaking of the wheels.  We traveled a long time, until I felt that they were unloading the fodder.  Again, the world was revealed to me:  a thick forest all around, unfamiliar to me.  The farmer's son said to me: 

"Stay here until night, and when the corrupt ones leave the village, I will come and get you.  I will give you a signal, a whistle.  Sit here someplace and hide yourself well." 

I remained alone in the forest.  I was very worried about my children, who had stayed in the bunker.  I sat alone for a long time.  The day was ending and it was beginning to get dark.  The forest was filled with night sounds.  Suddenly, I heard a whistle.  Indeed, it was the agreed-upon whistle.  I saw the young villager next to me.  I followed him, and he brought me again to Molczicz.  Many of the residents of this village were Baptists, who regarded themselves as being religiously and morally close to the Jews.  One of the foundations of their religion was reading the Bible. 

From here, I was taken on the Styr in a boat to the forest where my children were located.  After many searches, a lot of walking and errors, I arrived at the wide path.  A great fear fell over me, lest I meet up with police or ordinary murderers.  And again, I erred, and erred, endlessly.  I came to a field filled with piles of fodder.  I dug myself in and lay down.  It began to snow, and I worried that I would freeze to death.  My clothing was light.  It was warmer inside the fodder than it was outside, but it was not enough to protect my body from freezing.  I had slippers on my feet, but they had almost no soles.  They were wrapped in heavy fabric and tied with ropes. I lay in the fodder, my teeth chattering, and I didn't know if they were chattering from fear or from the cold.

Thus, I lay there all night.  With the morning light, I saw that I was near the Polish settlement.  From here, it was easy for me to find the way to the forest and the bunker.  When I arrived in the forest, I found my children very worried.  After I told them what had happened to me, they emphatically said that they wouldn't let me go out alone again…

News had reached us of partisans wandering somewhere in the forests.  Some young men came to us and suggested that we organize into fighting groups and obtain weapons to fight the German oppressor.  This suggestion awakened excessive confidence in us, because the feelings of a man who is pursued are not the same as those of a fighter.  Here and there, such groups had already been organized.

One such group, under the command of Yudel from Sopachov, numbered ten Jewish fighters, armed with cold weapons such as axes and knives and one old rifle.  This group came one night to Dolgovolya, which was known to be a village of murderers and collaborators with the Germans.  They knocked on the door of one of the notorious farmers and aimed the rifle at the window.  But the rifle was faulty and didn't shoot.  There indeed was fear in the house at the sight of the rifle, but the fighters were also afraid, being worried that their failure would be revealed.  They hurried away from the place.

During these days of awakening, six of us Jews organized ourselves and decided to go to the village Varazh, which was near Rafalovka, as well as to Rafalovka itself, in order to equip ourselves with food and clothing.  The villagers where we were located were already impoverished by our frequent visits.  We therefore had to search for new places. 

We arrived in the village, and even entered Rafalovka, but this trip was also filled with troubles and dangers.  When I returned to the forest, my children again decided that they would not allow me to leave without them.  I also knew that the trip to Varazh was foolish and that there was a great danger in the possibility that we would be caught.

In Molczicz Village

It was the morning of December 31, 1942.  The forest was suddenly filled with the echoes of shots from machine guns and rifles.  Everyone left the bunker and began to run, to get away from the place.  The echoes of the forest misled us, and many of us didn't rightly know from what direction the shooting came, because every shot raised an echo, which also sounded like a shot.  Each one took some food in his pockets – several potatoes – and fled to wherever his feet carried him.  After the shooting stopped, two of our men went out to the village to see what had happened.  They returned and told us that from a distance, they had seen many Germans and Ukrainians in the village, and even some Cossacks, who served the Germans.  They saw all these leaving the village and going away.  After a time, we found out that the goy from Dolgovolya was the Germans' guide.  They surprised the Jews in one of the bunkers, and six of them were captured.  The captured Jews were tied to wagons with ropes, and thus they dragged them to Vladimirets, where they all were murdered.  During that hunt, the Germans penetrated into the forest and burned all of the shelters that were built there, but they didn't dare to chase after us deep into the forest, because they were afraid that partisans were there.

Again, we could not remain here.  We had to leave the place, and so we arrived at the village Molczicz.  Before we entered the village, we saw a young village girl, wrapped in a shawl, coming toward us.  When she came closer, we saw that it was none other than our Fania.

The residents of Molczicz, who were evangelicals, took upon themselves the holy purpose of helping the Jews.  Therefore, they hid us in various houses and supplied us with our needs, as much as they could.  Fania helped a great deal with this care that they gave us.  She took my daughter Rivkele to stay with her.  Fania also found places in the village for other children.

Fania found a common language with the members of the religious cult in Molczicz.  Since she was educated and was very familiar with the Tanach [the Jewish Bible], she now became their teacher, and she would read appropriate chapters to the villagers and explain various matters to them that required a special explanation.  This situation of a teacher and counselor blurred the boundaries, until she even participated in some religious worship.  They regarded her as a kind of holy messenger, and guarded her well.

We did not stay long in Molczicz, and from here, again – we went to the forests.  Now, the farmers directed us to a tangled forest, in the depths of which there was an abandoned cottage.  In the cottage lived a few Jews who had been residents of Molczicz in the past.  We walked for a long time through the snow and mud, until we reached a river that we had to cross.  We saw the cottage on the other side.  Smoke was rising from its chimney.  While we were standing on the bank of the river, thinking how we could cross it, we heard a voice calling from the opposite bank:

"Jews!  Why are you thinking so hard?  Take off your pants and cross!"

My son David protected me so I would not get wet; he loaded me onto his shoulders and carried me across the water.  Here, we found Yaakov Murik from Molczicz and Yoel der Molcziczer with his child.  They received us warmly and told us that the place was deserted; here they didn't see a living thing, except for some soldiers in Russian clothing called partisans.  They came here occasionally to the cottage to rest and told of their activities against the Germans and their collaborators among the population.  They told that the Germans were using a heavy hand in these places against the Ukrainian population, wanting them to turn over the partisans to them.  As a result, villages were burnt and their residents were murdered.  Many of the villagers fled out of fear to the forests and joined the partisans 

And indeed, from the time that the partisans appeared, the attitude of the villagers toward us changed for the good, and our situation became greatly improved.

One day I went with my son David to Molczicz to visit Rivkele, who had moved to live in the home of one of the villagers where the conditions were better.  In the new place, they needed Rivkele to work as a babysitter for their baby.  Work was found also for David on one of the farms.  This was at the home of the farmer who had brought me to the forest in a wagon of fodder.  I was able to trust the residents of Molczicz and be sure that my children would find a comfortable shelter with them.

Now, I came frequently to Molczicz.  Not only the need for food drew me to the village – but also the wish to see my children.  When I came into one of the houses during a visit, they welcomed me and told me that their daughter was ill and they didn't know how to take care of her.  I decided to do something for them.  Indeed, I didn't have any medicine, but I went out into the village and began to search in various houses.  I found a thermometer and various pills, and also some cupping glasses.  Equipped with all these, I began to treat the sick girl as I saw fit.  From then on, I began to practice medicine.  With primitive means, I would heal disease and all kinds of other maladies.  The farmers were satisfied with the help I provided them, and they responded with my reward – the foods in our knapsacks became much more plentiful. 

Sometimes I would write prescriptions and send a messenger to bring the medicine from Rafalovka.  I was helped mainly by the forester, who had business in the province.  He brought me many drugs.  At the same time, he also helped the partisans, who gave him scouting and intelligence missions.  This forester also served as a contact between us and other Jews whom he came across in various places.

Once, the forester came to Rafalovka, to the Polish pharmacist there.  The pharmacist asked him if somewhere he had seen Yaakov Bas, the Jewish pharmacist from Rafalovka, because he had a letter from his wife and son, who he had seen on the last day before the ghetto was destroyed.  He was prepared to give the letter into trustworthy hands so that it would reach Yaakov Bas.  Being careful that it should not be known that he had connections with the Jews, the forester did not accept the letter.  But he promised to investigate and let him know the next time he came.  Meanwhile, the situation changed – a wave of nationalist Ukrainians swept the area, and a trip to Rafalovka was now impossible.

Eventually, I found out that my wife and son had tried to flee from the ghetto on the day of destruction, and they were caught and brought back there.  Before they were caught, they went in to the Polish pharmacist Senkyowicz and hurriedly wrote the few lines in his house.  I found the letter when I returned to Rafalovka after the liberation.  The letter was saved in one of the books in the Polish pharmacy. 

To the Ranks of the Fighters

We received news that large groups of Ukrainians, who had fought against the Red partisans, were located in the forests.  They plotted against the Jews –kidnapping and killing them.  The situation got a lot worse and it was unbearable.  These groups were called Bulbobches; they would come to the villages at night and look for Jews.  We found out that their headquarters was in Rafalovka.

At that time a group was organized of Jewish men who wanted to join the ranks of the partisans, but the partisans accepted only fighters who had weapons.  This group, under the command of Pesach Binder, decided to go to Rafalovka and break into the houses where goyim lived who had weapons, rob them, and at the same time do everything they could to take revenge on collaborators.  These men succeeded in entering certain houses in Rafalovka, and with cold weapons and in secret, they managed to eliminate several oppressors of the Jews.  

When they returned from the action, they had a small amount of weapons that they had acquired in their daring operation.  We were told that a large Russian force had broken through the front and had arrived in Molczicz.  When we came to the village at that time, we found many Russian soldiers, among them a significant number of Jews.  They had a great number of weapons and ammunition.  They received us with appreciation and in good spirits, but they refused to let us join their ranks, because they didn't want us to be a burden to them.  We had no way to obtain weapons, and as a result, their attitude toward us slowly changed for the worse.

"You are exploiting our authority, you are running around in the villages doing nothing and begging.  You only know to hide behind our backs."  We heard these words, and similar ones, from the Red partisans.  So we were robbed of both alternatives. 

Not far from Molczicz, a battalion of partisans was being organized.  The officer was a Russian who had been imprisoned by the Germans.  He now gathered Ukrainians and also Jews.  Among them were Yosef Murik, Yudel Rudi, Leah Pinchuk, Leah Goldman, Sarah Dublin.  Weissman and I also applied to be accepted into the battalion.  When we came and were waiting to go in to the officer, we spoke with the Jews in the battalion.  There, we also found many goyim from Rafalovka, who were notorious anti-Semites and had rioted at the time of the Soviet withdrawal.  How could we now fight together with them?  The heart refused to accept it.  We found out that the spirit in the unit was anti-Semitic.  At first, they called upon the Jews to join their ranks, and when they arrived, they refused to accept them and sent them to obtain weapons.

We absorbed this information while we were waiting in line.  And here, the officer arrived and invited us to present ourselves.  We didn't suffice to bring up our request and say what we intended, and he already sent a look of derision toward us, announcing:

"You are partisans?  You are despicable, not partisans."

"Why did you give all of your gold to the Germans?  Get out of here immediately, so I won't see your faces!" he shouted, and his eyes were filled with bloody murder.

We began to beg and explain our situation with the Germans, but he immediately grabbed his automatic weapon and aimed it at us.

"Get out immediately, so I won't continue to see you!"

When we went out, we heard the bullets whistling over our heads…

Discouraged, we returned to our places, and we didn't know where we were going.  Again, our situation got worse, and the few hopes that had begun to light for us were covered with heavy clouds.

And again, an event occurred on a winter day, when we sat in the cottage of generous farmers. Two partisans arrived and asked the farmer to bake some bread for them.  When they saw us, they asked us who we were and when they received the answer, Jews, one of them began to shout:

"You are spies!"  and he grabbed his rifle, aimed it at us, and ordered us to walk forward.

We began to plead and explain that we were a tiny remainder from the hands of the Germans, and he shouted:

"It's a pity that you remained, despicable spies!"

Now, the owner of the house intervened and began to defend us, and while he was talking with them, we stole out of the house and went to the nearby woods.

Very cold days arrived, and when we went out again to the village, we found the houses closed to us.  Nobody wanted to give us shelter.  That night, we found a dilapidated storeroom near one of the houses, where we spent the night.  In the morning, we suddenly saw a rider on his horse approaching the house, with an automatic weapon in his hand.  He approached the storeroom, surveyed it and sensed that there was someone inside.  He shouted that we should come out, and if we did not, he would shoot immediately. 

We went out of the storeroom and he ordered us to walk in front of him.  While we walked, he surveyed us and asked us who we were.  We answered that we are Jews.  When he heard the answer, he excitedly called out: 

"If you are Jews, why are you hiding?  Why didn't you say so immediately?"

We relaxed and began to pour out all the bitterness in our hearts.  He comforted us and told us that large brigades of partisans would soon arrive here, and that there were hundreds of Jews among them.  This was the well-known brigade of General Fyodorov.  We had a new spirit.  But now, other wounds came upon me:

When I came to visit my children, I found Rivkele very ill.  She had a high fever and her body was covered with red spots.  For days and nights, I sat next to her bed.  She had typhoid fever.  I didn't allow David to visit her, so he would not, G-d forbid, be infected.  Fania also did not rest and was not quiet, and she gave as much help as she could.  She found an appropriate apartment at one of the farmers.  We moved Rivkele to that house in a wagon hitched to two oxen.

During the time of Rivkele's illness, matters in general improved – the Russian partisans controlled wide areas, but it still was hard to enter their ranks for those who did not have any weapons.  At that time, the officer gave several of our young men an operative mission in order to test them. The order was to go to Rafalovka and set fire to the piles of fodder that the Germans had prepared for their army.  The youngsters accepted the order in the right way, even though they knew that the dangers were many in the area guarded by the Germans.  The men were Shmuel Appelboim, Zalman Shirman, Leibel Yachtson, Yosef Zilberman and Zvi, the baker.  Equipped with several hand grenades and cold weapons, they went out on their mission.  They travelled during the nights, until they came close to Rafalovka.  First, they came to the woods, to the place where all the residents of the town, over 2,000 souls, were murdered.  This pilgrimage to the graves of our dear ones and their isolation with the memory of the martyrs awakened them more strongly to carry out their mission.

The youngsters arrived secretly near the place where they had to carry out their action, and here, a great deal of firing was opened on them and they were forced to withdraw.  But they could not come back to the officer with empty hands.  So they decided to burn the large zafetya, where all kinds of materials and resins were made that were sent to Germany.  They secretly approached the place, tied up the guard and set fire to all sides of the plant.

When they returned to headquarters, the officer shook their hands and wished them success in their future operations, and he entered them into the ranks of the partisans.  These young men created a special division, the head of which was Isaac Pirad, aged 18.

One of the Jewish fighters who operated a lot in the ranks of the partisans was the young Jew Yaakov-Ber Zaltsman, a native of Vladimirets.  Yaakov-Ber was born in Vladimirets in 1920.  Eventually, his parents left the town and settled in the village Tikowicz.  But during the Holocaust, when the ghetto was established, this family was moved, like the rest of the Jewish families, to Vladimirets.  Yaakov-Ber and his sister Rachel were able to sneak out of the ghetto before the day of destruction and go back to the village where they lived, Tikowicz.  There they found shelter with generous goyim.  Yaakov-Ber, who was very familiar with the area, extended a great deal of his help to the confused Jews who were lost in the forests – the survivors of the forests of Vladimirets, Rafalovka, Dombrovitz and more.  He supplied them with food and clothing.

In May, 1943, Yaakov-Ber joined the partisan unit whose name was "Mavet Lefashistim" ["Death to Fascists"] and here he became famous for his daring deeds in the struggle against our oppressors.  At the end of December 1943, Yaakov-Ber fell during an operation next to the village Osnytsa…

 The Partisans Also Maltreated the Jews

Rivkele got well, and I fell ill.  My body was covered by large furuncles (boils) and I had a high fever.  I lay in the farmer's house where Rivkele had been hospitalized.  The farm woman opened my wounds with a needle, and put cabbage leaves over them to heal them.  The farmers took care of me with self-sacrifice; they themselves were poor people.  This illness of mine interfered with our implementation of my plan to join one of the partisan battalions that had a good attitude toward the Jews.

One day – it was a Sabbath – Weissman and I sat in a farmer's house.  We were eating a good meal, in which not even a glass of home-made whisky was missing.  Suddenly Germans arrived in the village, and we almost fell into their hands.  From then on, we swore to stop wandering to the doors of the farmers and to try to enter, finally, the ranks of the partisans.  But it was not easy, even now.  In everything regarding the Jews, the situation and conditions kept changing at that time.

We were told that the body of a woman had been found floating on the surface of the Styr River, and when Fania came to see the body, it became clear that it was Feigele Goldman.  The partisans had killed her and threw her body into the river.  Fania brought her to burial near the village Bishliak.  Such a death, or a similar one, was the fate of many among the Jewish fighters in the ranks of the partisans.  Many fled from their ranks and sought shelter with the farmers – Leah Pinchuk and Sarah Dublin came to us and told shocking details of the poisonous anti-Semitism permeating the Red partisans.  We brought them to the partisan group next to Khuta Sopachov, in which there were many people from Rafalovka, and they remained there.

One day I received an invitation to come to the partisan group near Khuta.  There I found Leah Pinchuk, who was still in shock over what had happened to her in the previous brigade.  Here, I gave her medical help and encouraged her.

The officers at the headquarters made a good impression on me.  The officer spoke to me cordially and said that here I would be allowed to provide medical assistance.  He had received the information about me from the feldsher, Ivan Karabowicz.  I could also bring my children here.

I returned to the village very happy, and told my children about the situation. But the farmers where our children lived had their own plans.  They wanted the children to remain in their possession and thereby they would become members of their cult.  A delicate situation was created, but I notified them that this was an order that came from the partisan headquarters, and it was impossible to change it.  Having no choice, they agreed, and they parted cordially from us.  I also tried to speak with Fania, to tell her to join us.  She blessed us on our new way of life, but she herself did not find it possible to join the partisans, and would remain in the village.  She promised to keep a strong connection with us, as much as  would be possible.

We reached the partisans, and I entered the yoke of medical work.  Rivkele helped me.  I would go out occasionally to the villages to find various medicants.  It was arranged for my son to take care of the officer's horses and watch over them.  But this matter caused him great depression.  He wanted to be a fighter, not a stableboy. 

My son was 15 years old.  One day, when I was not around, he went and reported to headquarters and told them that he was two years older.  When I returned from my trip, I found him armed with a rifle like one of the fighters.  I was surprised, and he explained to me that he had told headquarters that he was older. 

"I couldn't do otherwise, Abba.  I could not walk around doing nothing and take care of horses, when there is a chance to actually fight."

I accepted the existing fact.

Our group numbered over 100 men, and within it was the Jewish group, under the command of Isaac Pirad.  This group was assigned the job of carrying out sabotage on the section of train tracks between Manewicz and Tzartarisk.  At this location, they had to sabotage and destroy the German trains.  This group worked wonders, and it merited the destruction of many trains.  During those days, the Germans suffered heavy losses at the fronts, and the light of hope began to shine in our skies.  The tasks were changed – now the Ukrainian gangs began to hide in the forests, and this greatly endangered our few survivors, who were still wandering in these forests.  The gangs attacked the villages, burned and murdered.  150 Poles among the colonialists were also slaughtered by these gangs.

My relations with the members of our brigade's headquarters were very cordial.  I was invited to their meals, and more than once, we spoke at length about everything we had gone through.  I told them about what I knew of the officer Pateka's partisan brigade – about the murders and the brutal treatment of the Jews.  The matter amazed them and they decided to conduct an investigation and bring the guilty to trial.  And indeed, our Officer Kancza entered into the depths of the matter and the guilty ones were revealed and punished with all the severity of the law.

One day we received news that a mob of armed Ukrainians, headed by priests carrying crosses, had gone out to demonstrate.  The main organizer of the parade was the son of the priest Shiperkewicz.  The demonstrators carried large signs, on which was written "Death to the Partisans, the Poles and the Jews."

When our officer found out that the parade was advancing toward the Polish settlement, he took all of the means he had to stand up against them.  But they succeeded in arriving at Khuta in the dark.  They set it on fire and it went up in flames.

We had to leave the place in a large convoy.  This was a convoy of a few Jews and many Poles with their wives and children and their bundles, who left the place in fear of the Ukrainian gangs.  On the way, we were joined by Jews who had fled from their hiding places in the villages.  We arrived at the area around the village Ozhricz.  Here, there were large concentrations of partisans, among them many Jews.

One day, we were ordered by the officer Kancza to burn the den of murderers in Rafalovka.  The town was surrounded on all sides, and at the signal we began to rain destructive fire upon it.  A group of Jews entered Hominiuk's house to look for the heads of the gangs, and there in the cellar, we found old Hominiuk and Nestachov, who had assisted in the murder of the Jewish residents of the ghetto.  We went through the town and conducted searches.  We found a large food storeroom in my house, but we were forbidden to touch it because there was a concern that it might be poisoned.  The officer asked me if I objected to my house being set on fire.  I told him that a long time ago I had sworn that my feet would not walk again on this ground.  I saw, with my own eyes, how my house went up in flames and became a hill of ashes and pieces of burning wood. 

With the Victory

With this action, our troubles and tortures were not over.  We passed over roads of fire and blood, between the wounded and the fallen.  We saw many acts of revenge and we remembered our enormous destruction, for which there is no revenge.  The Nazi animal, that was wounded with death wounds, in its last flutterings still wanted to harm us, only us.  It was criminal for our last remains to fall victim to its appetite for murder.  So we stood up under many trials until we arrived at the Polesia Forest.  We stood in this forest in an almost hopeless struggle with the typhoid epidemic that felled many among us.  I, as a provider of medical assistance, was given to stand face-to-face with this enemy, every day and every hour.  But now, we already could also hear the gladdening news from the Soviet spokesman on Radio Moscow, who told of the great victories.

The Germans fortified themselves well from fear of the partisans who struck at them from the rear. Vladimirets became a large fort in those days – it was all bunkers and dugouts strengthened with wooden beams, all from fear of the partisans – in these bunkers, their situation forces were located.  Huge roadblocks were erected on all of the roads leading to the town, and even so, we were able to attack the Germans in Vladimirets, to surprise them and sow destruction among them.  In this operation, the chef from the Gestapo was seized when he hid in one of the cowsheds. 

And behold, the news had already arrived that we must leave the forests, because the day of victory was approaching.  We brought the ill to one of the airfields, and they were transferred to Russia.  Now, death still awaited us on every side.  But we had already been told that the Red Army was approaching.  Now we went on the free, main roads and the Ukrainian and German gangs began to hide in the forests – the wheel had turned.

We first met up with the Red Army in the village of Molczicz, which had witnessed our many troubles.  They received us with a good meal and plentiful cups of whisky – this was only an outer celebration.  Only now, with the victory, when the daily danger threatening our lives was taken away, we began to feel more greatly how conquered we were and how terrible the losses we had known.
 


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