Photograph Albums
Sefer Vladimirets translation
Vladimirets Information
Vohlyn Region
Vladimirets Surname List
Accounting for Everyone
Family Stories & Writings
Exhibits
Links
Sefer Vladimirets

read more

 

To Fight Back

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Yosef Feigelstein

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

TO FIGHT BACK

For a few Jewish families to live in a large Ukrainian village, far from a Jewish settlement, to strike roots into its ground and at the same time preserve a superlative Jewish existence, a life of tradition and commandments and self-respect so much so that it results in an attitude of sympathy and appreciation on the part of their non-Jewish neighbors – this was not such a simple matter.  Only one who was blessed with the characteristics for doing so – with deep faith, the strength of initiative, resourcefulness and knowledge of how to get along with others was able to stand up to doing so.  Under these conditions, a Jew was commanded regarding two essentials:  to defend himself and to understand the daily reality, and if necessary, even to fight back.  It appears to me that my father, Aharon Feigelstein, of blessed memory, proved himself to indeed be blessed with the above-mentioned virtues… 

In the Village of Our Birth

We were born in the village Duba.  Abba was occupied with the needs of the Jewish community in the village.  Our house was large and it served as a kind of inn for all passers-by.  Emissaries, lecturers, envoys of HaChalutz [The Pioneers], and ordinary poor people found food, drink, and even a place to sleep in our house.  The grocery store, working the field and garden, and caring for the animals – all these were the occupations of our family.  My grandfather, Abba's father, Bezalel Feigelstein, was one of the kidnapped children.  When he was seven years old, he was kidnapped and served 25 years in the Czar's army.  He also was one of the first Jewish settlers in Duba.  Abba was also one of the Czar's soldiers, serving for 7 years somewhere in the Far East, on the Chinese border.

There were four streets in Duba, and so it is doubtful whether it was a village or a town.  The Jewish population in the village numbered 20 families, close to 100 souls.  Our house was a large one with many rooms.  One room served as a synagogue for the daily prayers of the local Jews.  On the High Holidays – Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – Jews from nearby villages would also gather here in order to pray with the congregation, and then their numbers would reach several minyanim [groups of ten men].

There also was a tiny branch of HaChalutz and HaShomer HaTzair in the village, and the youth would gather at night to enjoy talks about the Land of Israel and aliya [immigration to the Land], the life of labor and self-protection.  This matter of labor and self-protection came naturally to the Jews of Duba, since most of them were strong and deep-rooted, powerful laborers.  We spent our celebrations with songs and dances.  These songfests did not find favor in the eyes of the head of the village, and one night, when our hearts were happy at a party of friends and we were sitting on the porch of the Kobazlo house, suddenly the village head appeared with his helpers, who were called disyantniks, and they began to wave their staffs at us and to shout: 

"To sleep, go to sleep, cursed Jews that you are!"

Immediately, Eliyahu Feigelstein, who was the leader of the HaChalutz branch, got up and punched the village leader in the face.  He collapsed and fell down, and now the rest of the boys attacked the disyantniks who had accompanied the leader.  They also received hard blows and they dispersed in all directions.  Nevertheless, there was a concern as to what they would want to do to us in revenge for their downfall, and so we armed ourselves with thick staffs and clubs and positioned ourselves as a protective guard next to every Jewish house.

The village Duba was located north of Vladimirets, about 30 kilometers away.  The village was surrounded on all sides by large swamps, from which sandy hills protruded.  Forests covered enormous areas all around.  They were virgin forests, and there were places within them where no man had trod.  In the low, wet places, leafy trees flourished – willow, white poplar, oak and aspen; in the high, dry places, conifers grew – pine and spruce.  The Stublov River was to the west of the village, and when the snow melted, the branches of the river filled with flood waters and its bridges were uprooted and swept away.  It was possible to enter the swampy and forest areas only during cold winter days, when everything was hardened and frozen.  At that season, many wood merchants and forest workers would come and cut down trees so as to send them like rafts toward Pinsk and Brisk, and onward.  Thus, there was a livelihood to be made and the Jews lived here in comfort.  This was so until World War II.  Then, matters changed.  The change came already with the Russian conquest, but mainly with the Nazi invasion.

When the Russians left, they called us to join their withdrawing ranks and leave the village, but Abba, who was very attached to the place, said:

"Where will we wander in our old age?"

Now also, like always, many Jews came to our house to discuss what to do and how to act, and Abba again expressed his opinion: 

"I have already lived my life," he said.  "But you young people must flee from here."

Many of those who had jobs with the Soviets awoke and travelled with the withdrawing army.  The goyim from the village Bila, who were known, even in peacetime, as violent murderers, now smelled a chance for robbery. There already were rumors that armed gangs from this village were hiding behind Duba and were planning to rob it.  That day, a Russian gather-and-withdraw army unit was staying with us, and this prevented the murderers from Bila from entering the village immediately, but when the Russian soldiers left, the goyim immediately began their work.

"Children, there is no reason to stay in the house.  Take the tools and we will go out to the field," said Abba.  "In the field, when we are working, they won't recognize us."  Abba hid the Torah scrolls in a safe place, and all of us went out to work in the field; apparently we were Christians, residents of the village.  From the field, we saw what the goyim were dong.   Armed with weapons, they went through every Jewish house and did whatever they wanted, as if they were at home.  When we returned from the field after the gang had left, we found torn holy books, broken household utensils, pillows and quilts cut to pieces and feathers spread all around.

When the Germans entered and established their own regime, in other words, when a police force was set up whose members were local goyim, a new chapter of suffering began – at first there was forced labor.  Jews were sent to Khynucz village to cut down trees and split them.  Two men had to cut down and chop 16 running meters of wood.  This was the quota per workday, and whoever did not fulfill his quota was forced to work until the next day, without stopping, until he filled their demand.  After that, we were ordered to dig pits for storing potatoes.  I remember that Yaakov-Shmuel, the town's ritual slaughterer, who was a weak Jew, was not able to stand up to this work as required, and he experienced many humiliations.  The German overseer approached him, knocked the hat off his head and ordered him to carry potatoes in the hat.  In this manner, the work was indeed easier, but the degradation and humiliation were great. 

The Ukrainian police in Duba numbered 20 men, headed by the blood-sucking leech Saman Pentzhuk.  As in every other place, also here they began by marking the Jews with a white ribbon on which a Magen David was drawn, and later with the yellow patch.  The Jews who had horses were ordered to serve the police as wagoners and to drive them to various places.  I myself drove our wagon and horses for the drunken police, taking them mainly along the Stublov River, where they threw grenades in order to stun the fish and hunt them.  The horses were frenzied by the sound of the explosions, and I, a lad of 16, was ordered to hold them by the reins while they were unruly.  The police enjoyed seeing me being dragged by our excited horses, without the strength to stop them. 

I remember one Sabbath night.  While we sat at the table, we suddenly heard knocks on the door and Pentzhuk's voice.  When we opened the door, he came in with several policemen and ordered Abba to harness the horses and take them somewhere.  But Abba emphatically answered him that he was willing to give them the horses, but he would not drive them because now it was the Sabbath.  Abba began to explain, that they should show some humanity and consider another person's feelings and faith.  But Saman shouted that this was an order from the Germans, and he didn't want to hear any excuses.  Abba got up, approached him and said in a resolute way that could not be interpreted otherwise, that nobody from this house would drive them on the Sabbath; they could take us out dead from the house, but we would not drive wagons on the Sabbath.  Abba's words were so emphatic and decisive that Pentzhuk cancelled his decree and went out of the house.

Abba was generally a good-hearted Jew, generous and kind, but at the same time, he was a proud and firm Jew.  Now, I remember his stories of what happened to him during his life.  One incident, characteristic of him, is the story of how, during his service in the Russian army, he protected a poor private who was treated brutally by one of the sergeants.  He was punished for doing so by a sentence of three days in prison, but the sergeant did not come out innocent, and he was transferred to a different squadron.  That private did not know the Russian language and didn't understand the orders he was given, and one day the sergeant decided to oppress him with special brutality – to inspect his tongue to prove, so to speak, why it couldn't speak Russian.  He ordered the private to stick out his tongue for inspection.  When he did so, the sergeant grabbed his tongue with his fingers and began to pull.  The private suffered terrible pains, but no one among the other soldiers got up to defend him, until Abba jumped up, fell upon the sergeant, grabbed him by the throat and began to strangle him.  Now, of course, he let go of the private, but for that Abba stood before a military court and was punished with only a symbolic punishment, because all of the other soldiers testified in his favor. 

An affair in itself was the affair of the taxes and fees imposed on Vladimirets. We were ordered to participate in paying them.  From an administrative point of view, we belonged to the Vladimirets Judenrat; Abba was a sort of representative of the Judenrat and was responsible to it.  The quotas of silver and gold, clothing and valuables were brought to our house and messengers from Vladimirets came to take them; thus, we were faithful partners in the portion of suffering of the Vladimirets community, before we were transferred to its ghetto.  Thus passed the winter of 1941.

With the arrival of spring 1942, the decree of the ghetto was issued.  Most of the Jewish residents of Duba were ordered to leave the village and move to the ghetto in Vladimirets.  Elderly, young people, children and women gathered next to our house, and from here they made their way on foot to Vladimirets.  Every person was allowed to carry with him a package of only 20 kilograms.  I carried flour in a sack.  My brother Yaakov carried barley and my sister Sarah'le.  Abba carried with him a package of holy books and a Torah scroll.  This Torah scroll had its own story.  They began to write it at the beginning of the 20th Century.  For various reasons, the work of writing was halted occasionally.  Abba was among the initiators and organizers of the continuation of its writing – World War I and the riots following delayed the writing, and the completion of the writing of this Torah scroll was celebrated only during the 1920's.

We walked slowly, resting occasionally.  Goyim stood on the sides of the road and accompanied us with laughter and ridicule.  Only Uberko Diazhuk and his brother Anton Diazhuk – who were Baptists – expressed words of comfort and participation in our troubles to us. 

In the Vladimirets Ghetto

Before sunset, we arrived in Vladimirets.  Every family already knew what apartment it was to live in.  Our family was housed in Reuven Beider's house.  Abba was called to the Judenrat and was chosen as the representative of the people from Duba.  The day after we arrived, I was sent to pickle fodder in the garlenia.  I worked there for two weeks.  The overseer, a Russian named Vanya, brutalized the Jews.  He oppressed them and beat them.  A month later, I was sent to work in Antonovka.  This was hard labor, re-erecting the bridge that had been destroyed by the Russians when they withdrew.  We dragged enormous beams, but the portion of food that they gave us was a portion of thinness and hunger: in the morning, a can of tea and at noon, some kind of soup made of potato peels and water, with a dry piece of bread.  Many of us lost our strength and became ill from a lack of nutrition and the oppression of the work.  I also became very weak, and one day faintness overcame me during my work.  My head became dizzy and my legs staggered.  I was not able to continue working.  I was given a sickness certificate and was ordered to go back to Vladimirets.  I went out on the road, but I was afraid to make the trip on foot.  I stood a short distance from the work camp and waited.  And along came a goy with a wagon, who gave me a ride for a large part of the trip.  I walked the rest of the way, until I arrived in Vladimirets with no more strength.  I lay sick for a few days.

At that time, the Judenrat was ordered to supply agricultural workers and send them to the estate.  Since I was used to doing field work, I was sent with other lads to do this job.  These workers were given certificates for eight days.  We had to renew the certificates when the eight days expired.  The work here was varied – plowing and sowing, harvesting and watering – from dawn to sunset.

We were a group of youths.  I remember Pinchas Slipak and Pinchas Slivkin, Moshe's son; Avraham Sussel and his brother Reuven Sussel; one lad named Chaim whose family name I have forgotten; Asher Slipak; Eliezer Dik; Asher Goz; Isaac the blacksmith from Uzhero; little Pinchas Slivkin and Rachel Matikowitz.

Every morning, we went out on foot to work.  In general, we were hungry, and when we passed by the field of standing corn, we would pick the ears next to the road and eat them.  Part of the field next to the road was, therefore, only stalks of straw.  In the estate, we would eat whatever came to hand – mainly all kinds of vegetables.  I intentionally went out to work wearing boots, with my trousers tucked into their tops.  In this manner I was able to fill the legs of the trousers and the boots with rye seeds or wheat and bring them home.  These seeds were ground in a hand grinder and became food for survival.  I was almost the sole provider of the house.

Germans came occasionally to the estate to check on the progress of the work.  We had to be very careful.  Nevertheless, we decided to find a new path to walk on our way to work and our way home, and not to walk by the field whose ears at the side of the path were cut off, lest they suspect and punish us.

It already was the month of Av [July-August].  Rumors were circulating that Jewish communities had been murdered, and the fear was great.  In general, there was unity among the group of workers at the estate.  We tried to help each other as best we could.  The fruits in the orchards were already ripe and we picked apples and pears to feed ourselves.  Jakub, the goy who oversaw the work, was a special person.  He was generous and noble.  He tried to extend his help to us and make things easier for us, as much as he was able.

"Take and eat whatever you find," he would say.  "Only try to do it so no one will see you.  You don't have to be afraid of me!" 

During those days, we talked about several Jews who had fled on the day of the massacre of the town Stepan and hid in the forests.  These Jews were caught and were brought to the police in Vladimirets; here they were tortured until their souls left them.  The girls who worked as servants to the police told us that one day the floors in the rooms of the police station were full of bloodstains and cut-off limbs were thrown about. 

The days passed, and we already stood at the month of Elul.  Horrible news began to arrive regarding burial pits that had been dug on the way to Zhulkin.  I remember that from time to time, we would talk about running away, but opinions were expressed that such an act would endanger not only the escapees, but also, first and foremost, their families in the town – who would then be an object of revenge on the part of the Germans.  At that time, opinions were also expressed regarding setting the town on fire before the Germans destroyed it.

We first heard the matter of the digging of the pits from Jakub, the overseer, who was a good friend of Pinchas Slipak.  That morning, we worked together weeding the cabbage, and Pinchas Slipak said:

"Friends, we must run away.  In any case, they are going to kill all of us.  At least let us save ourselves."

And then he told us what he had heard from Jakub.  The next day, we worked separately.  The news spread In the ghetto and the fears became greater.  Confusion and depression struck everyone.  Again, Abba awoke, as he had during the Russian withdrawal, and he said:

"Children, you are young.  I and Ima are already old, and the fate of all of the Jews will be ours.  But you young ones must do something and rescue yourselves. 

He was speaking to me and my brother Yaakov.  But his words were mainly directed at me, because since I worked at the estate, I had an opportunity to flee.

"You must save yourselves; you must protect your lives.  At least try to do that.  You say you have nothing with which to defend yourself?  There is a knife in the house.  Take the knife with you and try to flee."

That is what he said, mainly to me, but also to Yaakov.  That morning, before I left for the estate, I indeed took a knife and hid it in my boot.  Ima gave me several meters of fabric, which I wrapped around myself.  I wore a good suit, and over it my ordinary work clothes.  At the last minute, she handed me my small siddur [prayer book] and tefillin [phylacteries].  I parted from the members of my family with tears and kisses, and went out to the estate.  I thought I would not return home any more.

That day, I was appointed to transport garbage.  No special change was apparent on the estate or in its surroundings.  At noon, the bell rang – a signal to stop working.  I halted the horses and went to the cowshed with the intention of hiding there and fleeing later.  My heart pounded with excitement.  There were many sheaves of hay in the loft of the cowshed.  I climbed between them.  Doubts worried me, whether to remain in the cowshed or not.  In the end, I came down from the loft and returned to work.  Jakub, the manager, met me and asked where I had been for such a long time.  I told him that I had laid down somewhere and fell asleep.  I worked until evening, and together with all the members of the group, I returned to the ghetto.

When they saw me at home, everyone burst into tears.

"Why did you come back?  Why didn't you run away?  My son, what have you done?" cried Abba in discouragement.  All that night, we did not close an eye.  All of us stood tensely next to the windows and looked outside between the cracks in the shutters.  Suddenly, a shot was heard.  It later became clear that one of the neighbors had gone out to the yard during the night.  They shot and killed him.  This was a young man of about 30 years of age.  It later was told that several young men were sent to bring him to burial and on the way, they attacked the policeman who accompanied them, took his weapon and fled… 

Again, Abba warned me that I should not return to the ghetto and that I should exploit the right time and flee.

One Group 

That day as well, my job was transporting garbage.  I worked together with Isaac from Uzhero.  At noon, we ate raw vegetables.  We rested a bit and returned to work.  But we sensed that something was happening in the yard and matters were not as usual.  I saw several fellows looking to the sides, as if they were planning to do something; they held their work tools in their hands.  Here, they were beginning to come closer to the ditch that led to the forest.  Something is out of the ordinary, I said to myself.  I was still thinking about this, and suddenly I saw that they were beginning to run and that Jakub, the overseer, was standing in the shade under a tree with his hands folded and looking nowhere.

"Isaac," I shouted.  "Come and we will run away from here.  Why are we standing and waiting?  The group is already escaping!"

We began to run toward the forest, with the pitchforks in our hands.  We ran over a harvested field, a field of stubble.  As I ran, I looked behind and saw that Jakub was still standing and looking as before.  In a few minutes, we had already reached the outskirts of the forest.  Here, we met up with the group.  We went deep into the forest, and suddenly Sussel and Slpak ordered us all to sit down.

"One of us must be the guide or officer, because if not, we will not be able to survive here," said Sussel.

Pinchas Slivkin, who was very familiar with the area, was chosen to be the guide.  Sussel and Slipak were the officers.  Our first goal was to distance ourselves from Vladimirets and go to Tykowicz, in order to accompany Rachel in getting there.  Her brother, Yaakov-Ber, was in Tykowicz.  He had snuck out of the ghetto the week before, with the assistance of a goy.  Pinchas explained to us that we would have to cross a main road and the train tracks.  After that, we would have to turn left, to Andruya.  Pinchas walked first and everyone else behind him, with spaces of several meters from each other and keeping eye contact.

First, we carefully crossed the train track and after that, the road leading to Uzhero.  We were a strange group:  some with a pitchfork, some with a rake; some with a spade or just a simple staff.

It was a Thursday.  When darkness fell, we arrived at  a wood which was near the village Andruya, next to Zawadsky's house.  We didn't go into the house, but we sat in the wood of the swamp nearby.  Pinchas went to Zawadsky's house to get some food for us.  After a short time, he came back carrying two pails.  One pail held potatoes, and the other, cabbage. 

The fear was great that our flight would bring, G-d forbid, a deed of revenge and the murder of our families.  A few of us sat and cried quietly.  We decided to turn to Zawadsky and ask him to go the next day to Vladimirets and inform us what was happening. 

We sat in the swampy wood all night.  Zawadsky's wife brought us food and cried with us.  The next day, Friday, Zawadsky went out, as we requested, to Vladimirets, and in the evening he returned with the terrible news of the murder of the Jews of Vladimirets.  Now, everyone cried.  Zawadsky began to speak to us and comfort us – he comforted and cried simultaneously.

"You are young," said Zawadsky.  "Don't let your spirits fall.  You must remain alive.  Your greatest hater is discouragement.  You must struggle – I will always help you, and other people will be found who will help."

He parted from us with kisses and tears.  He gave us some matches, two pails, a razor, some soap and other various items.

We made our way through a pine forest.  We found some blackberries, some red berries and even mushrooms.  We went deep inside between the trees and made a bonfire.  We lay around the fire, one's head on the other one's legs – a manner of lying that would warm us somewhat.  One of us remained awake to tend to the fire.  In the morning, I took off my boots when we left, and had the bad luck of stepping on one of the sharp roots that were hidden in the accumulation on the forest floor.  My foot received a deep wound and the blood flowed.  I tore my shirt and made a bandage out of the pieces.  Now, I walked last in line – walking and hopping.  We went about 15 kilometers and we already were close to Tykowicz.  All of the members of the group remained in the forest, and Pinchas Slivkin and Slipak went to accompany Rachel and bring her to her brother, who was hiding in the village. 

They returned, bringing with them several shirts and some other needs.  We stayed in that place for a few days.  At first, we had only two knives with us, but afterwards the boys brought additional knives from the villages. 

One night, the two Sussel brothers went out to Tykowicz with Pinchas Slivkin and Slipak, as usual.  We lay around a bonfire, and at that time I was the guard over the fire.  Suddenly I heard the sound of people running.  I hurried to wake up the boys… We saw Reuven Sussel coming at a run, holding a rifle in his hand, and Slipak running behind him.  When they reached us, they became even more excited when they found out that Slivkin and Avraham Sussel had not yet returned.  "They must have caught them," they said worriedly.

They sat down, pale, next to the fire and told us what had happened in the village and how they had obtained the rifle.  When they walked in the darkness of the night down the street of the village and in the ditches at its sides, they had seen a man standing next to a tree with a rifle in his hand.  They came up to him at pouncing distance and fell upon him from both sides.  Sussel and Slivkin struggled with him and they took the rifle and began to flee; thus they were the first to return to the forest.  A short time later, Pinchas Slivkin and Avraham returned also.

Sussel sat next to the fire, the rifle in his hand, and began to practice opening and closing the bolt.  When he opened the bolt, two bullets fell into the fire and exploded like a shot.  No one was hurt, but the loss of the bullets was a very great loss in our eyes at the time.

One day, as we sat next to the fire, Sussel heard footsteps in the forest.  He saw one man, who walked and stopped, listened and inspected as if he were looking for something.  Sussel immediately informed us and we arranged ourselves in "battle" formation and began to approach the man from all sides.  When we stood at a short distance away from him, we ordered him to raise his hands.  We searched him and found cigarettes, soap, tobacco, razor blades.  He was dressed in a military coat and told us that he was from the village Vyshliak and that he had fled from the Germans because he didn't want to serve them.  He said that he had heard a rumor that Jews were here and he came to find them and extend his help to them.  He told us that he knew of a place where it was possible to obtain weapons.  He showed us a certificate that acknowledged that he was from Vyshliak.

We heard all of his nice, encouraging words, and nevertheless we decided to guard him well.  Toward evening, we heard the sound of harmonica music nearby, coming closer.  We saw that a spirit of rejoicing entered our benefactor and he stood up and asked to be allowed to whistle.  He became excited, and said:

"These are my friends.  They will also help you."

And he already wanted to put his fingers into his mouth and whistle, but Sussel jumped up and hit his hand, saying: 

"If you whistle, I will kill you on the spot."

"These are my friends," said our guest.  "You can trust me.  I will give my head if they harm you."

"I will kill you immediately!" said Sussel, "If you dare to do something without our agreement, your grave will be right here." 

We hurried to go away from the place, and with us, our "guest."  We went in the opposite direction of the music.  It was hard going, but we hurried away.  The sound of the harmonica faded away.

After we went very deep into the forest, we sat down for a short rest and consultation.  What should we do with this goy?  Somebody said we should kill him.  Nevertheless, we decided to let him go free.  We got up again and continued on our way and when we had gone a great distance, Sussel said to him: 

"We are freeing you, and you can go where you want to go.  But remember, we know where you live and if you do anything to harm us, your family will pay with their lives for your deeds."  Two lads accompanied him for a distance to take him away from the members of the group, and when they came back to us, we went very far into the thick, deep forest.

The coming of the goy to us and everything relating to it, spread over us like a shadow.  We found out that the dangers were many, even more than we had imagined, also in the forest.  Now, we remained without a purpose.  At first, all we wanted was to flee, a matter that had awakened us to act.  Now, we stood in the big forest, in the presence of the terrible daily troubles of the approaching autumn.  Our spirits went down.  The fact that we were a group did not make it easier for us, but harder.  There were among us those who thought it would be better for them to be alone; they would be able to find shelter.  Each one looked for a different way for himself.  My suggestion was that we go to the area surrounding Duba.  Sussel and Slipak said that we should go to the village closest to Vladimirets.  Isaac said that we should go to the Uzhero area, and Slivkin suggested that we go to Androya…

One night I parted from the members of the group and headed toward the village of my birth, Duba.  I walked, limping and leaning on my staff.  The knife was in my boot and my small siddur and the bag with my tefillin were in my pocket.  I had to pass by the villages Radishov and Khynucz.  This was a very difficult undertaking, and so I wandered until I arrived at a wood east of Duba.  Here stood the house of one Polish woman whom I knew, who was a widow living with her son, Adam Otshekowsky, my friend from school.  I entered their granary without informing them.  I hid myself well among the many sheaves, and fell into a deep sleep.  I was awakened by the sounds of the blows of the threshers at work.  It was my school friend Adam who was working in the granary.  I called his name from my hiding place and he became very frightened and turned terrified eyes toward me.  I came down to him and told him everything that had happened to me, and asked him to help me.

"I am ready to give you my boots in payment, as well as my good suit," I said to him.

My suggestion was that after I would find a place in the forest, I would come only at night to sleep in his yard, eat a few potatoes, and that's all.  It appeared that he accepted my proposal, and he fulfilled his promise for a few days.  But then my old friend tried to evade meeting me, and the door of the house was always locked to me.  My heart prophesized that I was in danger:  perhaps he wants a greater payment and will inform the police of my whereabouts?

One evening, I came to his house.  I hid among the bushes in the garden in the yard near the door, and waited for him to come.  He arrived at a late hour of the evening, and when he neared the door, I suddenly stood up in front of him and asked him why he was evading me and breaking our "contract"?  He began to stutter and speak of the danger involved in the matter, and expressed his opinion that it would be best if I would go away from this place and not complicate matters for myself and also for him.  He quickly opened the door of his house, went in and locked it.  I remained outside, dark and depressed, but at the same time filled with bitterness and seething with anger.  I decided to bang on the door, to scream and curse, but the door was locked.  I ran from there to the window, the frame of which was attached to the wall with hooked nails.  I bent the nails to the side, took the window out of its setting and jumped into the house.  His mother was frightened and began to cry and scream.  I shouted at her that I would not go out of the house unless they gave back my suit and my boots.  But my former friend was stubborn and he didn't give a thing back to me.  His dark face spoke of evil intentions.

Suddenly I understood that the situation was a dangerous one, and that I must hurry to get out of here.  In one of the corners of the house, I saw a pair of rubber shoes.  I hurried to grab them and left the house.

I was tired and disappointed, and didn't know where I was going.  I had with me several boxes of matches, a clay bowl, the siddur, tefillin and the knife.  I was familiar with the surroundings.  I went a few kilometers away from the village and arrived at the outskirts of a forest of tangled willow trees, a forest that was separated from the village by a large swamp.  One would meet up with another person here very rarely, except for the winter days when the swamp was frozen and crossing it was not dangerous.  Here, in the tangled forest across the swamp, I erected a small shelter made of tree branches, and next to it I prepared my bonfire, my faithful companion during the terrible days of distress.  At night I would go out to the fields of the village and bring my booty from there – potatoes, carrots, beets and peas.  I cooked my food in my bowl.

I spent two months in this forest in terrible isolation.  I saw that the calendar was confusing me – I didn't know days, months, or the Sabbath, and already during the first days of my stay here I understood that it was forbidden for me to be projected into such a confused condition.  I began, therefore, to prepare my own calendar.  Every day I folded the edge of a page of the siddur, and when I left the place I found that 43 pages were folded.  I washed my underwear by boiling it in the bowl.  I had grown unkempt, and I looked like a strange animal of the forest, dirty and full of lice. 

One evening, after I had already read some chapters of Psalms in a mournful tune, as was my daily custom, a feeling sparked within me that some of the members of my family remained alive, and that I had to go to Duba to investigate.  The thought occurred to me while I sat next to my fire, and I quickly decided to implement my thoughts.  I extinguished the fire, bundled my few poor possessions and went out on the road, but when I reached the edge of the swamp and entered it in order to cross it, the skies became dark and a heavy rain began to pour down.  I was wet to the marrow of my bones, and I was inside the terrible swamp, in the dark, my feet sinking into the mire, my teeth chattering and my body trembling.  It already was late in autumn and my clothing was thin and light.  The direction of the path was also lost to me.  I could not return to the forest.  The matches were wet and I would not succeed in lighting a fire. 

With the remainder of my strength, I reached a higher place and here I found a position.  I was even able to warm myself somewhat by jumping and waving my arms.  As luck would have it, at that moment a fire broke out in the village – one of the granaries went up in flames, and thus the correct direction was revealed to me.  I somehow left the place and arrived in the fields.  Under cover of the darkness of the night, I entered Duba.  I went to Roman Mayelnik's house.  He was a villager who was a good friend of my father's.  I knocked on the window, and the door opened.  He didn't recognize me, but when the members of the family found out who I am, all of them were moved to tears and showed a positive, human desire to help me.  First, they took large scissors, the kind that is used to cut the wool from the sheep, and cut my hair.  They gave me hot water to bathe in and changed my clothes.  Here, I was informed that my brother Yaakov and my brother-in-law, Baruch Feldman, had also been saved and that they were here in the vicinity. 

I warmed my frozen bones on top of the stove.  I stayed with them for an entire day, and in the evening I parted from my benefactors.  My heart told me that my brother would be found north of the village, in a place where the Polish residents played many games.  The villager Dominik Yachimowsky showed me the place in the forest where my dear ones had found a hiding place. 

The meeting with my brother was very emotional, and I do not have the strength to describe it.  Here, a long series of wanderings began.  Battles and illnesses befell us.

The surroundings of Duba were excellent for the partisans' guerilla warfare.  The thick, deep forests and the large swamps served as a roadblock against attacks by the Germans.  Eight kilometers across the Stublov River, in a thick, primeval forest, Sitov's brigade found a dwelling place.  This was a brigade in which there were Jewish fighters.  One of them, who excelled in his strength of spirit and daring deeds, was Pinchas Slepak, my companion in flight from the estate in Vladimirets, the former officer of our little group. North of the village, toward Lipinsk, there was a unit called Misura that numbered several hundred fighters.  A camp of adult Jews, and even some children, survivors of the ghettos in the area, was under its protection.  About 30% of these fighters were Jews, and one of the most praised officers, whose name became famous afar, was Efraim Bekeltzhuk.  Under his command, surprise sorties and all types of attacks were conducted against the German camps in Vladimirets and the surrounding area. 

More than once, the Germans went out with their servants, the Ukrainians who obeyed them, to conduct hunts for this partisan brigade, without success. 

Among the Christian residents of Duba, the goy Timopy Strala became notorious.  Once, when he was transporting garbage, Timopy noticed that a Jewish boy was wandering in a field.  The boy was a survivor from Vladimirets, and he was very weak.  Timopy grabbed him and tied him to the poles of the wagon, and wanted to turn him in to the Germans, who were significantly rewarding every "hunt" of this type.  In spite of this, the boy succeeded in escaping from him and fleeing.  He arrived one day at the Misura brigade and told of the deeds of the goy from Duba.  That same night, the night that the villainy became known, Efraim Bekeltzhuk  went out to the village with a few fighters.  They kidnapped Timopy and brought him to the partisan headquarters, and after a short trial in which he admitted his deeds, he was executed.

Now, when I was among the partisans, I found out about the horrible deeds of the Ukrainian police officer in Duba, Saman Pentzhuk.  He was one of the bloodthirsty murderers.  He and his group of police even participated in the murder of the Jews of Vladimirets.  On the day that we were driven out of the village of our birth, he held his wedding.  The exile of the Jews was, he said, a holiday for him.  The murderer desired our two large houses, which had been orphaned of their lawful owners, for himself.  Our granaries and storerooms served him as reservoirs for the treasures of violence and robbery that he collected.  He thus wanted to build himself from our huge destruction.  At that time we found out from the residents of the village that on the day of the massacre in Vladimirets, he ordered the police who were subordinate to him that they should pay attention especially to the Jews of Duba, so that no Jew would escape and not one would be saved from them.  After the day of the massacre, the calculations that he and his followers made, proved that the family of Aharon Feigelstein was not present among those brought to be slaughtered.  The murderer did not rest and was not quiet, and he organized gangs of police who went out to search for the members of our family.  They searched the garlenia and Beider's house – in the attics and the cellars.  All of the members of our family, except those who had succeeded in fleeing, were revealed by them in their hiding place, and after a great deal of torture, they were brought to the slaughtering pits and murdered.

Here also, Efraim Bekeltzhuk entered a journey of revenge, and he organized a secret delegation to seize the murderer.  The delegation indeed arrived at "his" house and succeeded in surprising him and taking his weapon and subduing him.  The members of the delegation found out that the house was full of stolen Jewish property – sewing machines, all kinds of clothing, furs and the like, but Saman was able to deceive the partisans and escape.  That same night he told them that many pairs of boots were hidden in the next house, and if they wished, he was ready to bring them so that the partisans could take them.  In those days, and under the conditions in the forest, good boots were the wish of every partisan.  Therefore, Levik, der zameritshiner, a daring Jewish fighter, went out with him to bring him back.  The rest of the partisans remained at their posts.  When they arrived at the next house, Saman fell upon Levik and began to struggle with him, wishing to take his rifle from him.  The two strengths were equal – the struggle was energetic and bitter, with teeth and nails.             Levik began to call for help, and when they fell to the ground, Saman succeeded in taking the bolt out of the rifle and fleeing.  Levik's rifle now lacked purpose, and the hunt failed… 

But on the second hunt that took place, in which Efraim Bekeltzhuk  himself participated, Saman was seized at his father-in-law's house, in a small side cottage where he was hiding.  He was seized at night when he slept, and the death sentence was carried out in the center of the village.

His body hung in the street for three days, and the residents of the village were afraid to approach and bury it.  At that time, fear of the partisans fell upon the entire surrounding area.  Pinchas Slipak also continued to operate in this vicinity.  He was the officer of a reconnaissance squad.  His name inspired fear among the collaborators, and his deeds of bravery were many.  He fell in a battle with Ukrainian gangs.

I spent a long time in the forest with my brother.  Many troubles came upon both of us – sicknesses, hunger and innumerable deprivations.  Together, we entered the partisan brigade in the Pinsk area.  With the liberation of our area by the Red Army, together we passed a two-month army course and were sent to the front.  We participated in the heavy battles to liberate Pinsk and Riga.  Near Libawa, we both were wounded during the same week.  From then on, we were cut off from each other – and my brother's footsteps were lost to me for many years.  Only in 1958 did I find out that my brother remained alive.
 


1997 - present © Copyright Terryn Barill. All rights Reserved.
If you use any portion of this site, please use sections in their entirety, and give credit accordingly. Thank you.