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I was a Young Man

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Yosef Leshetz

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

I WAS A YOUNG MAN

In the Remote Regions of the Town

Our house stood on a side street in the remote regions of the town.  Not far from the house, the large meadow – the poplav – spread all the way to the forest, which obscured its end.  Our house was low and old.  Part of the roof was made of wooden shingles, and part of straw, but moss and greenery were already growing on both.  You could put out your hand and touch it.

We were a poor family.  Our house comprised two apartments, each containing a single room.  A corridor separated the two apartments, and in it there was a large cellar for storing potatoes and other provisions that needed cold storage.  In the corridor, we kept wood for heating the house during the winter and for cooking all year round.  The long logs were piled on top of each other, from the floor up to the top of the wall.  In the yard, we had a cowshed. 

Our apartment, where the five of us – Ima, Abba and three sons - lived, was in the room to the left of the corridor.  I was the youngest of the brothers.  Abba's name was Zeev; Ima's name was Gittel.  My big brother's name was Bezalel and my middle brother was Yaakov.  In 1940, a sister was added to our family – her name was Yehudit. 

In the room to the right of the corridor lived Saba and Savta [Grandfather and Grandmother].  Moishe der shuster – Moshe, the shoemaker – that is what the townspeople called Saba.  At the beginning of 1939, Saba passed away at the age of 75.  And this is how he is preserved in my memory:  his height was slightly bent, and his beard was long and white.  He prayed in the synagogue of the Trisk Chassidim.  After his death, Savta lived alone in her room. 

There was very little furniture in the house.  Two beds stood in one corner.  In another corner was a sofa, that we called the tapchin.  In the middle of the floor was a rickety table, and next to the wall, a chest of drawers that held various linens and clothing.  Apart from these furnishings, the stove took up a large portion of the room.  The stove had an upper level "on the stove" and a lower level, the "understove."  The "understove" was a kind of niche for chickens and the upper level was also used as a place to warm ourselves in the winter. 

In Savta's room, there was a similar set of furniture.  Her room was very neat and clean.  She was very particular in this regard.  The beds were neatly made and the pillows were piled on each other by size like a tower, whose base was a large and wide pillow, ending with the smallest pillow.  In Savta's room there also was a small mirror, and next to it was a flowerpot with artificial flowers that were spotted by flies and whose color had already faded from dust.  But on the windowsills there were flowerpots with live flowers.  The floor was made of wooden boards upon which yellow sand was spread.  In honor of the Shavuot holiday, we would cover the floor with greens that we brought from the poplav.  We brought water from the krinitsa – the spring.  When I was a boy of 10, I already would go to the krinitsa to bring water in a pail.

One of the sources of our family's income was the cow in our shed.  It happened that our cow died of some illness, and the house was dark and in mourning.  The cow was part of the family.  Every morning we brought it to the flock going out to pasture, and every evening we stood and waited for it to return.  Once a year, the shepherd would bring us a small calf, the offspring of our cow, and then the joy would be very great.  Savta also had a cow, and she would sell its products – cheese and cream and buttermilk.  Savta kept the dairy products in all kinds of clay pitchers.  The cellar was her "refrigerator" in those days.  We used the milk and dairy products for our home only.  We had additional income from fertilizer.   In exchange, we received a field for planting potatoes.  After we lost the cow, we made many efforts until we bought another cow.

Abba inherited the shoemaking and sewing trade from his father.  I remember periods of my childhood when my father would sit at his little table repairing shoes.  But mostly, I remember him stricken with all kinds of illnesses – once he had an eye disease, and once he had strange sores on his neck.  He was hospitalized for many weeks in various hospitals – in Rowne and in Lutzk.  In such a condition, our household was always lacking. 

Hunger and cold were ordinary visitors to our house, and the charitable organizations of the town took care of us.  One winter night, Abba suddenly lost consciousness.  One of his eyes was very swollen.  In the house, they talked about an illness called meningitis.  A sled came up to the house, and the neighbors ran around with worried faces.  That night they took Abba to Lutsk.  This event is engraved in my memory, not in all its details, but in its general outlines and in the shadows of worry that wrapped around the house.  Ima travelled with Abba, and we children remained alone.  Savta would come into our apartment to bring us food.  But that was not enough.  We had to sell the cow in order to finance Abba's stay in the hospital.

I remember the worry of one Friday, before we went to the synagogue.  We found out that Asher, who was a good friend of Abba, was called to the telephone, and we worried that the call was connected to Abba's illness.  Perhaps he had passed away already, and they didn't want to tell us?  A dark fear fell over the household.  Somebody ran to Asher to find out, and he wasn't at home.  Our Aunt Rivka, Abba's sister, came to our house, and she walked back and forth, tearfully whispering to herself:

"Master of the Universe!  Please don't interrupt your Sabbath, and don't turn it into the Ninth of Av!" 

And then Asher arrived, and told us that Ima had notified him that Abba's situation was satisfactory.  He had successfully undergone surgery, but he needed a second operation.  And so the days of our childhood were caught between illness and distress, but from then on, Abba recovered.

My brother Yaakov learned in the yeshivas in Sarny and Luninetz, and excelled at his studies.  Our parents had hopes for him.  My big brother learned tailoring, and even though he was talented and learned quickly, he wasted many years as a tailor's apprentice, as was the custom at that time, until he was allowed to do the actual job of sewing.  Those in the know used to say that he was destined to be a superb tailor.  My brother was already going to buy a sewing machine and begin to work as an independent tailor, but for some reason he encountered many difficulties in the matter of the machine and he decided to leave tailoring and turn to a new profession – baking.  He was accepted by Elka, di pikarnichka [the baker], and here as well, he excelled in his work and after half a year he began to work as an expert; he already had helpers that he supervised… 

Days of Prosperity

These events I am telling about occurred near the time that World War II broke out.  With the entrance of the Soviets into our town, the livelihoods of many Jews were destroyed, mainly among the more well-to-do families. Those in our situation enjoyed an improvement.  As opposed to the distress and poverty with which we were familiar in the past, we now saw relative prosperity.  Abba had plenty of work.  His health had greatly improved.  Bezalel was now appointed as the chief baker, and he had to supply bread to the army that was camped nearby.  His salary was very good, and we did not lack anything.  During the Soviet regime, Yaakov continued to learn in Luninitz.

At that time, a Yiddish-language school was established by the government.  The principal of the school was Yitzchak Pinchuk.  My teacher was Yitzchak's sister Charna.  When the Soviets entered, there was a great awakening in the town, in any case, among us children.  During the days of the Polish regime, for example, a car would rarely come to Vladimirets, but now, cars were a daily occurrence.  We little ones ran after them, sometimes suspending ourselves behind them and getting a short ride.  Our school was not far from an airfield that the Soviets had installed.  So we merited not only cars, but also airplanes.  The airfield was next to the Polish cemetery.

One day we sat in a nature class, and suddenly, we saw out the window that two airplanes were hovering and coming lower, as if they were preparing to land in the airfield.   All the children became very excited and they all jumped up and ran to the open windows to see the airplanes land.  A large group of children went outside to the airfield.    The pilots, in their special hats and goggles, came out of the planes.  Hanging from their hips were long pouches for maps.

"Nu, children, do you want to be pilots?" 

And the entire crowd of little ones answered unanimously:  "Yes!"

We stood there for a little while and returned to our classroom.

In the beginning, the teacher was angry, but when she discovered that the children in all of the classes had gone out, she found some comfort in that and accepted the deed, and we got away from the entire matter with a lukewarm rebuke.

The soldiers in Vladimirets were mainly from the engineering corps, whose job was to install airfields, pave roads, and the like.

Our home was traditional, and Abba continued to fulfill the religious commandments also during the time of the Soviets.  Our parents suffered a great deal when we were forced to go to school and write on the Sabbath.

It was before the long [summer] vacation, and we went out to the park, a group of children with our trainer – a young Russian sportsman.  He was of medium height, with a powerful back.  His chest was decorated with letters of excellence – sports medals and Komsomol [Communist Youth Union] symbols.  In the days of the Polish regime, I had never gone to this place in our town that was called the "park," not even once.  And now, it was a public place.  Here the Russians conducted their various demonstrations, and here they made their speeches.  In the middle of the park there was a nice mansion – a three-story brick building with a metal roof.  The surrounding view was wonderful – hills and valleys, lawns, flower beds and ancient trees.  This was a park mainly for amusements – in both winter and summer.  Now, we practiced running exercises.  After the exercises, the trainer sat with us for a concluding talk and to determine the next training session.

We were still sitting and talking when somebody passed by and said that news had been received that the Germans had invaded Russia.  We were children, and we did not yet know how to estimate the full meaning of this news, but we saw that our counselor's face darkened.  He did not finish the conversation.  He only stood for a few minutes, lost in thought – and then he told us to go home.

When I returned to the town from the park, the fear and impression made by the news were already felt.  People stood and talked about the draft that would begin.  In a short time, signs of the news began to be visible.  The draft to the army began.  Young men were taken.  Parents cried and mourned.  There was immediately a shortage of essential provisions, such as flour, and more.

After a day or two, the recruits were seen to withdraw.  Rumors began that the Ukrainians who lived in the area, who had been hostile to the Soviet regime, were now opposing the withdrawing soldiers: 

"Torn and worn out ones like you, YOU want to fight against the Germans?  You?"

Ukrainians from the surrounding area removed their weapons, changed their uniforms for civilian clothing, and deserted the ranks of the army.  The goyim gathered the weapons and hid them until an opportune time. 

The fear in the town was great.  There were those among the young people who fled eastward with the retreating army.  My brother Yaakov returned home at that time from Luninitz.  Bezalel continued to work in the bakery, and Abba still had work fixing shoes. 

Without a Regime 

The town remained without any regime.  Goyim from Vladimirets and mainly from the surrounding villages, began to wander past the houses, robbing and threatening:

"The Germans will come, and then they will shoot you, cursed Jews!" 

We had many friends among the goyim, among them some who would visit our home.  Savta also had some business relations with the goyim – she would buy and sell a bottle of vodka, and the like.  The villagers came to us regarding shoe repairs.  A goy who was waiting for his boots to be sewn would sometimes remain to sleep in the house.  He was satisfied to sleep on the floor, and he didn't see anything wrong with doing so.  Here, they prepared tea and also their meals.  But many of them now alienated themselves.

A great fear dominated all of the houses, including ours.  Our Aunt Rivka, with her four daughters and two sons, came to us to sleep, because we had a better connection with the goyim.  They thought that in our house they would find protection and shelter.  One night – it was a moonlit night, one of the nights in the middle of the month – an hour or two before midnight, everyone in the house was sitting tensely, and here, suddenly there were knocks at the door.  We trembled with fear, and our teeth chattered. 

"Open the door!" – repeated shouts were heard.

Somebody in the house approached and opened the entry door to the corridor.

In the opening we saw four goyim.  One of them was an acquaintance of ours, the son of Matavy,  a handsome, strong young man.  He was the sheigetz that I was teaching to speak Yiddish, and who lived opposite the spirit factory.  He remained standing next to the door, and the other three came inside, each one turning toward a different place, to search.  Apparently Matavy's son was the group's guide.  Matavy's son told the goy who had begun to search in our room that here there was nothing to take, and he directed all of them to Savta's room.  All four of them were armed with rifles and bayonets.  They opened Savta's cellar and took all kinds of things out of their hiding place.  Among other things, there were several bottles of alcoholic wine – Savta's merchandise.  My big brother dared to say a word of reproach to them, and one of the goyim hit him in the face.  The presence of the goy who was acquainted with us certainly influenced his partners and somewhat reduced their cruelty.  They went out, and all of us remained sitting, frightened and tense, until the next morning.

These days of transition in the town, without any regime, continued until the entry of the Germans.  At that time we would go out in fear to the street.  Rumors circulated of murders in the area.  One day we were informed that Shmuel der toiber [deaf one] had been murdered by robbers.  He was an old Jew.  It was said that he began to reprimand the robbers when they came into his house, and they murdered him.  The dangers drew me, as a boy.  I wanted to see them face to face.  So I ran toward his house to prove whether the rumor was true, and indeed, I saw him lying there, dead, soaked in blood.  At that time, Berel der guncher was also murdered by robbing goyim, and i also saw him lying next to his house.  Leibel der blecher [the blacksmith] was also murdered.  He was found in the poplav [meadow].  I knew Berel's children very well, and so I gathered my strength to enter their house after they brought the body inside from the street.

The Germans Have Arrived

One day it became  known that the Germans were already in the town.  I first saw them when I walked down the street.  There were about 20 soldiers.  They were tall, and had motorcycles with them.  This was near the police station – at Zvi Lerner's house.  Next to this house there was a large, wide square, and here they stood, together with several Ukrainians, absorbed in loud laughter.  I looked at them from a distance.  At that moment, an elderly Jew passed by them on his way from the synagogue.  I don't know that Jew's name.  A German hinted to one of the Ukrainians with a movement of two fingers, like the movement of a pair of scissors, indicating cutting, and he immediately went and brought scissors.  They grabbed the Jew and cut off his beard, and again, they broke into loud laughter.

I would always sneak out of the house to see what was happening.  Authority was in the hands of the Ukrainian police, who walked around the town in dark blue uniforms.  In the town, they were speaking with fear of the fat German who was living in Beider's house.  They called him "the hangman."  Every one of us had already received the yellow patch.

Deprivation began to be felt in our house more and more.  But the situation of the craftsmen, we among them, was better than that of the other Jews.  Abba continued to work for those goyim who paid him with food staples, mainly potatoes.  There were those among the goyim for whom Abba worked but they evaded paying.  The Germans had already imposed financial contributions on the entire town, and everyone was obligated to give his portion of these payments.  With the shortages that already were rampant, we found some help in our cow, which supplied us with a bit of milk.  In those days, cooked potatoes with milk or buttermilk were a really royal meal.  And then a decree was issued:  all of the Jews must turn in their animals to the regime – horses, cows, goats, and the like.

The entire family tearfully accompanied our dear Trulke – that was our cow's name – as she was taken by Abba out of the cowshed and brought into the street.  The streets were filled with Jews leading cows and horses.  The mooing of the cows rose like a lamentation of parting.  The entire herd of animals was taken to Horodetz, and there they were given to the Germans.

Severe Hunger 

Hunger made its mark in many homes.  Sometimes we would meet children from the nearby houses and consult with each other as to how to satisfy our hunger.  Someone told of a boy who became a shepherd for one of the farmers, and his wages were food.  I remember that I regarded this as a very great achievement.  I was filled with the desire for such an achievement.

One day I decided to do something for the household.  It was before a holiday.  I and my brother Yaakov snuck out of town.  We went through the fields and arrived at Dibovka-Kanonitz, two villages where goyim lived who were among the visitors to our house; among these were some who were in debt to us for work that Abba had done for them.  When we went out, we disguised ourselves somewhat, and gave ourselves the appearance of non-Jews, as much as we could.  We took off the yellow patch.  We went barefoot, like the village children.  We didn't enter the goy's house through the main entrance on the street, but we came to the house through the fields.  Our entrance was always done with great care.  That day we succeeded in gathering two pounds of potatoes.  We put this treasure of ours into sacks we had brought with us from home, and when darkness fell, we returned to the town.  This walk took place when the local guard was not yet strong, but after a time the guard was strengthened and the danger in leaving the town was very great.  Simultaneously, the deprivation also grew stronger. 

Again, I went out to one of the villages.  This was in the summer, and when I walked outside the town, the field crops were already very tall.  The goy I was going to see lived in a Ukrainian farmstead, a distance of two kilometers from the town.

It was an early hour of the morning, and I was heading past the tsiglenia (the place where the brick kilns were located).  The owner of the farmstead was a wealthy goy, who owned many fields and properties.  I asked him to employ me in any kind of work, in exchange for food.  He agreed that I could work for him as a shepherd.  I got up early every morning and went to the farmstead to work.  In the evening, I returned home.  The path was full of dangers, but nevertheless, I continued doing this work for about two weeks.  Most of the way, I ran.  I was a lad of 12 and I believed that by running, I would quickly pass by the danger.  Sometimes I met the children of goyim, who would throw stones at me.

One day, the goy ordered me not to come any more to his house.  After that, I worked for a time near the railroad tracks, gathering potatoes.  My big brother worked in Antonovka near the bridge.  One day he returned from work beaten and wounded, and his body was swollen.

There was no river in Vladimirets, but water was not lacking there.  In our yard, for example, and in our surroundings near the poplov,  if one were to dig at a depth of a meter and a half or two meters, water would bubble from the ground.  After the ghetto was established in the town, the bathhouse was outside the area where the Jews lived.  The Chassidim among the townspeople were left without a bathhouse and without a mikve [ritual bath], and they looked for a possibility of installing a mikve for themselves.  One of our neighbors was Shmuel Elimelech's son, Yaakov Slipak.  He had a large family of many children.  For some reason, Yaakov left his house and went to live with his family in his father-in-law's apartment, which was next to theirs.  His own apartment remained empty.  Yaakov, who was one of the Karlin Chassidim, agreed that they could install a mikve in his apartment.  I remember that the Chassidim would come to the place and dig in secret.  Inside the pit that they dug, they installed walls made of wood like the walls inside wells.  They even installed stairs so that a person could go down inside.  Since the water in these places flowed forth at a shallow depth, the installation was quickly filled with water.  The Chassidim would come here to dip themselves before the prayers.  I remember slightly that the opening of the mikve was accompanied by some kind of ceremony to render it fit for use, but I do not remember it clearly. 

A short time after the Germans entered Vladimirets, the large stove in our room collapsed.  In other words, the bottom of the stove sank down and broke, and it was impossible to light a fire in the stove to cook.  Our family moved into Savta's room to live with her, and our room remained empty.  Since the Germans had turned our synagogues into crop warehouses, and the synagogues were left outside the Jewish living area, the Jews looked for empty houses to use as places of prayer.  Our apartment turned into a place of prayer.  It is not clear to me whether Abba suggested it, or if they came to him with the suggestion and he agreed, but I do remember that the room was cleaned and arranged, and a holy ark was brought with Torah scrolls, as well as a table and several benches, and that people came there to pray until the day of destruction.  I remember that once there even was a Kiddush held in honor of a boy's bar mitzvah.  The prayers were conducted with weeping and pouring-out of the soul.  Sometimes special prayers were held for the safety of the congregation.

The Day of the Massacre

It already was the month of Elul.  My brother continued to work in Antonovka.  At that time, I no longer pursued the development of events.  Their memory was accompanied by distress and fear.  I would meet with the children of Yeshayahu the tailor and other children, and I remember that we would talk about the rumors that had reached us from the goyim, that they had begun to dig large pits next to the smalarnya.  The Jews that worked in Antonovka, including my brother, were returned to town.  There were some Jews who tried to escape from the town.  It was told that a roll call of the residents would be held, as had already been done several times.  Rumors were flying about Jews from Vladimirets who had given money to goyim to take them out of town and hide them, and the goyim took the money and murdered them.  There remains in my memory an incident of a woman whose son wanted to leave the town and he was murdered next to the park.  It was told that the woman ran through the pasture toward the park to find her son, and when she found him and bent over him to mourn, a Ukrainian policeman approached and murdered her as well. 

I remember that Thursday, the day before the massacre, as a day of fear.  My mother cried a lot, and even Savta shed tears.  The congregation that prayed in our house recited the prayers with the holy ark open.  We knew that the roll call would take place the next day, and the fear aroused by this day was great.   

Early in the morning, the shouts of the police were heard, hurrying the Jews to go outside to the roll call.  From the window, we saw families going to the gathering place.  That morning, Aunt Rivka and her family came to us.  The police had not yet come to our house.  From the window, I saw how they took the family of Yaakov Slipak out to the street – a large family that also included an 8-day-old baby. 

Here, a few police came to our house also, and began to scream:

"Take food for one day and come out.  Come out immediately!"

Before we left the house, Abba said that each of us should take a prayer book and his tefillin [phylacteries] with him.  I had already begun to put on tefillin.  Yehudit was a six-month-old baby and Ima carried her in her arms.  The Germans announced that we were only going out to a roll call, but our hearts were full of fear, because this was not an ordinary roll call, and something threatening awaited us.

We left the house and kissed each other.  Our whole family went together. In spite of the fear, a weak hope flickered:  "Maybe it really is a roll call?"  When we went past the flour mill, we saw a murdered Jew lying outside.  Somebody said this was a Jew from Antonovka.  Many people cried as they walked.  I myself did not shed even one tear.  I felt all of the terror around me, but I was unable to cry.  My heart, for some reason, had turned to stone. 

We arrived at the gathering place, next to the pool behind the municipality. I stood next to Ima, who was holding Yehudit.  We were close to the Germans who conducted the roll call – the head of the officers was the fat German who was called "the hangman."  Next to him stood two other Germans, and near them were many policemen.  An order was heard that craftsmen should go out of the crowd and stand separately, and suddenly everyone began to be pushed, as if they had asked all of the people gathered there to go out of the crowd and be counted with those who were able to work.  People began pushing and running about. Suddenly I saw that the German officer had lowered his rifle from his shoulder, aimed it at the crowd, and began to shoot.  Many people fell to the ground, and a shouting voice was heard from within the crowd:

"Jews, save yourselves and flee.  Shma Yisrael! [Hear O Israel!]"

This was the voice of Yerachmiel the blacksmith – a strong Jew whom we knew well, because he sat next to Abba in the synagogue.  His voice was usually high and strong, and now its strength was increased because of the danger and fear.  The entire crowd was shocked by his call, and many people began to run away.  I was pushed by the crowd and detached from my family.  I was young and light on my feet, and I began to run.  I ran because of the will to live – I ran behind the police station.  There was a little passage there between two houses, but it was closed off by a low fence.  I jumped over the fence and arrived in the yard of the Cossack – a goy who worked as a feldsher in the municipality.  I remember that several gentile women were sitting in the yard, and their faces expressed surprise.  When they saw me, they got up off the benches as if they were afraid, and went into the house.  I did not delay and didn't wait.  What I saw, I saw while I ran.  I crossed the yard, and now I had to cross the road.

I stopped for a small moment.  Here a great danger waited for me – the police were standing on the road.  Indeed, they were not close to the place where I had to cross – here and there, people could be seen fleeing and the police were shooting at them.  One of them saw me and shot toward me.  There was a well surrounded by a fence.  In other words, the fence continued on both sides of the well.  I quickly crossed the street, and instead of climbing the fence, I climbed up on the walls of the well, which were lower than the fence, and I crossed over to the other side.  I continued to run.  I was in a field of potatoes and spelt that had not yet been harvested.  I had already gone a short distance away from the danger, but I was not free of it. 

In the field, I saw Asher Kamin, Zelig der androyer with his 8-year-old daughter Chayele, and Shneur Pinchuk.  They were running from the left side of the field, and I from its right. Bullets shrieked over us.  I stopped for a moment to take off my shoes, and continued to run barefoot.  I had one-fourth of a loaf of bread, my tefillin and prayer book.  I reached the forest.  I went deep into the forest, and here I met Shneur Pinchuk and Zelig and his little daughter, and also Yisrael, the son of Shlomo the sewer.  We went deeper into the forest.  We were very tired, and we decided to rest.  A few more people joined us, whose names I don't remember.  We sat, confused, not knowing what was happening.  It was as if we were in a dream of terror.  Someone was of the opinion that what happened today was only passing anger, and that tomorrow or the next day, we would be able to return home.  We sat there until late at night.  We found a large tree with a thick crown, and we lay beneath it in a pile of fallen leaves.  The night was very cool, and we lay crowded together.  One of us covered himself with his tallit [prayer shawl].  We were in the forest next to the village Zhulkin. 

Hideout in the Forest

In the morning, Zelig suggested that we go deeper and deeper into the forest.  He said that toward evening, he intended to go to one of the goyim to get some food and find out about the situation.  We went deeper and deeper into the forest.  We found some remaining black and red berries, and we ate them.  Zelig was a Jew of about 50 years of age.  Toward evening, he took his daughter into his arms and went to his acquaintances in the village.  We waited for him until late at night, and he didn't come back.  We were worried as to their fate.  The next morning he came back, and brought with him a bit of food, along with the story of the destruction of Vladimirets.  The goy told him that all of the Jews of the town had been murdered, because many Jews did not go out to the roll call and some ran away.  But the Germans were conducting precise searches, and they were torturing and murdering every Jew that they found.

This was the first news of the destruction of our birthplace, Vladimirets.  Now, we knew that all of the thoughts of "passing anger" were in vain.  Zelig brought bread and potatoes with him, and a few bottles of water.

Indeed, we were together, but each one consulted himself and made plans.  Whoever had a chance, grabbed onto calculations for the future.  I had no plans.  Mainly, the people depended on goyim they knew, whom they believed they could lean upon.  We were wandering in the forest and going from place to place.  This wandering was some kind of strategy in our war for survival.  We were afraid to remain in one place, lest we be seized by the Germans or their accomplices.

After a few days, the group fell apart.  Before that, together we determined a meeting place in the forest, with the agreement of everyone.  This was in a section of hyssop – a clearing in the forest.

I remember that we were together on Yom Kippur.  The day before, that is, on Yom Kippur eve, we arranged the meal before the fast, the main part of which was potatoes.  Toward evening, we held a kind of public prayer.  Shmulik, who had ordination as a rabbi and was one of the refugees who had lived in the town, and Zelig from Androya, were the leaders of the prayers, and they prayed with broken hearts and in weeping voices. 

The next day, we continued to wander in the forest, and even though we had potatoes with us, we did not eat a thing and all of us fulfilled the commandment to fast, except for Zelig's daughter.  In one place, we saw shepherds from a distance.  We hid from them, and when it got dark we arrived at a place to rest and have the meal after the fast.

I and Yisraelik, the son of Shlomo the sewer, remained together in the forest.  The autumn – the Polish autumn with its driving rains – had already begun to show its signs of wind and rain, and we were wandering from place to place, eating the remaining berries that we found.  Yisraelik was well dressed and he had several thousand rubles with him.  Money now had no value, but the clothing that he wore did have a value.  My clothes were lightweight – trousers and a shirt.  But the cold ruled over Yisraelik and me to the same degree, and the dampness ruled over him perhaps more.  His clothes were also wet, outside and in.  We found a huge tree in the forest that had been uprooted by a storm, and we lay under its trunk, next to its roots, but it was a shelter only from being seen.  However, we had to flee from this place as well, and it happened like this:

One day, when we were near our tree, a forest guard, known in the local language as a layshnik, suddenly came out from the bushes.  He aimed his rifle at us and ordered us to stop.

"You will come with me to the city, to the Germans, and you won't continue to wander around in the forest." – That is what the guard said.  He certainly said this to frighten us, but I immediately began to plan an escape.  My will to live never left me the entire time.  The guard ordered Yisraelik to undress completely, to take off his shoes, his coat and his suit.  There was nothing to take from me.  He asked me what I had in my pocket.  I had my prayer book and tefillin, and he did not, of course, take them. 

"Get out of here, quickly," he ordered us.  "Remember, if I find you again in this place, I will kill you with no warning at all."

We began to quickly distance ourselves from the place, but we kept turning our heads to look behind us, from fear that he intended to shoot us. 

We continued to go deeper into the forest.  Toward evening, we decided to go out to one of the villages to get some clothes.  A poor village family lived not far from the forest.  We saw that next to the house a goy was standing and chopping wood.  We did not reveal ourselves to him.  We took a strategy – first, we wanted him to sense that we were there.  Indeed, we succeeded in attracting his attention toward us.  We wanted to see what his reaction would be.  He began to look to his sides, in order to find us.  He surveyed and searched the area with hesitation and suspicion, and when he saw us, he began to investigate us from a distance:

"Who are you?  Who are you, Jews?" 

From a distance, we asked him if he had an old garment, because we were almost naked.

"Hurry up and get out of here!" the farmer shouted, from emotion and fear.  "I don't want to see you here.  They murdered all of the Jews from the town.  Get out of here fast, because if you don't I will call people from the village and they will send you back to the town."

We began to run back to the forest.  After we went a great distance, Yisraelik began to linger and began to argue with me:

"Yossel, I am telling you, we have to go back to the town.  Let's go back and hide by one of the goyim we know in town."

Yisraelik was depressed by everything that had happened to him in the last few days.  His spirits were very weakened.  All of his confidence was undermined.

I told him that there was no purpose in going to the town.  I pointed out the dangers awaiting there.  I said to him that I would not go back by any means.  I explained to him that conclusions should not be drawn from the failures that we had during the last day.  I said to him that in my opinion, we should change our strategy.  From now on, we will not continue to make requests from the goyim, but we will sneak in secretly and take some clothes from the laundry hanging in the yard, and that is how we will solve our problem.  It will never be too late to return to the town.  As long as we have a possibility of staying far away from the town, we are obligated to exploit it. 

That evening, we went out to one of the houses, and indeed, we saw laundry hanging on the line.  We took down some shirts and trousers.  We put the clothes on and returned to the forest.  But Yisraelik did not change his mind.  He cried a heartbreaking cry: 

"Yosef, we have nothing to do here.  Come and we will go back to the town.  There we will find shelter and we will survive the bad times."  These arguments returned and were repeated every day.

At that time, we again met Zelig and his daughter in the forest.  He told us that he had met all of those who had been together with us.  Zelig suggested that together we should build a zhamlanka [bunker] in the forest.  Several Jews who had not been with us before joined our group:  Benyamin and his wife from Zhulkin, and another Jew from Zulkin, with his two sisters.

Yisraelik did not give up the idea to return to the town, and one day he carried out his scheme.  Shneur Pinchuk went with him to accompany him.  After some time, Yisraelik was caught and murdered.  So was Shneur.

Winter Is Coming 

Together, we were nine souls, and we began to build the zhamlanka.  The autumn passed and the winter approached.  In the morning hours, the ground of the forest was covered with a layer of frost.  Snow also began to fall.  We worked very hard and finally our den, the zhamlanka, was built.  Most of us had acquaintances among the farmers, and we would go out every night to bring food – potatoes, mainly.

I adapted my own method.  After the welcome we had received from the goy woodcutter, I decided not to go back to the doors of the generous, but to take what I wanted from the goyim.  I went out at night to the fields of the goyim.  I found the pits where they stored potatoes, carrots and beets for the winter.  I dug next to their pits and took out some of the treasure and carried it to the forest.  Every night I visited a different pit.  This was only because the goyim suspected something and set up an ambush. 

One night, when I approached one of these pits, I suddenly heard a shout.  The shape of a man appeared nearby – a goy with a sickle in his hand.  I threw my entire load on the ground and hurried to escape.  He began to chase me.  And here, a second goy also appeared, running toward me.  Thus my pursuers were in front of me and behind me.  I was in great danger, but I quickly changed the direction in which I was running.  I got away from them and arrived in the forest.  They continued to chase after me for a while, but they didn't dare to enter the forest.  Since they didn't succeed in grabbing me, they took out their anger in curses and insults only:

"Cursed Jew, cursed Jew!"

The Jew who came to us with his two sisters was named Feivish. I was going barefoot.  One day, Feivish brought me a pair of lapchos – shoes made from rags and wood fibers that were usual among the farmers.  During the days, we made a bonfire in the forest near the zhamlanka.  We also dug a well for water, and so we were able to make a bonfire also inside the zhamlanka.  We continued this way for over a month. The Jews from Zhulkin taught us how to distinguish between goy and goy – which of them were generous and good-hearted, who we could trust, and which were cruel and we should not come near them.

Many Baptists, who generally showed a generous attitude, lived in this village.  I was accustomed to going out to the village early in the morning, gathering food and returning to the forest.  One morning when I returned from the village, the snow began to thaw and my lapchos got very wet.  The dampness penetrated into my feet.  I sat next to the bonfire outside to dry the rags on my feet.  Suddenly, I heard a shot that came from nearby.  I understood that they were attacking us.  I jumped up quickly from my place toward the zhamlanka and shouted into the entrance:

"They're shooting at us, run away quickly!" 

All of the residents of the zhamlanka had heard the shot before I notified them, but when I frightened them by telling them to flee, they all began to huddle together.  I ran first, and all the rest ran behind me. 

A policeman burst out of the trees and grabbed me by the hand.  If I am not mistaken, it was the chief of police Mezalochik – Yayachnik.  With him were three other police who spread out to grab the rest of us.  One of them also shot one shot toward those fleeing.  I didn't know how I had the strength to remove my hand from his.  Afterwards, one of the goyim told us that the police knew where we were in the forest, but for some reason they thought we had weapons and they didn't dare to approach us.  I found some explanation in this story for the success of my disappearance.  When the policeman heard a shot, he certainly imagined that our people were shooting, and in the fright of the moment, he loosened his grip on my hand and I certainly exploited the opportunity and freed myself.  I continued to run and he started to chase me at some distance and shoot.  I ran barefoot, because I had left the lapchos next to the fire.  Shooting among the trees had little value.  After a few minutes, I saw Feivish's two sisters and Zelig's daughter near me.  We went deeper into the forest but from its depths we continued to watch the police and their actions.  I saw that one policeman was holding Shmulik.  Zelig and Benyamin's wife from Zhulkin had also been caught.  We went far away from that place.  I tore my shirt and wrapped my feet in the strips.  We made a fire and warmed ourselves.  In the evening, we went back to the zhamlanka.  It was burned up.  The potatoes that had been inside were baked in the fire.  When we found them, we ate as much as we wanted.  We returned to the place we had come from.  On the way, we passed by the well we had dug, and we found Shmulik there.  He was dead, lying over the edge of the well.  His head was over the water in the well and his body was outside.  We carried his body a distance away, dug a grave in the forest ground and buried him.  We continued to wander.  After a few days, we found out that Zelig Slivkin and Benyamin's wife were brought to Vladimirets by the police and murdered there.

Charna Pinchuk's husband; Feivish from Zhulkin and his sisters; Benyamin and me, and Zelig's little daughter were all that remained of the residents of the zhamlanka.  Thus, we were four men, two young women and a little girl 8 years old.  In the beginning, the little girl cried all the time, calling "Abba, Abba," but after that she became familiar with the situation and we didn't hear her crying again.

Now, the guide was Feivish, who was very familiar with the surroundings and had friends among the villagers.  He took us out of the forest and brought us to a building made of clover.  It was a kind of heap set out to dry.  We climbed up on the pile and stayed there for two days.  The place was five or six kilometers from Vladimirets.  We thought about what had happened the entire time.  We did our best to take care of Zelig's little girl, but our possibilities were limited.  I myself suffered greatly from the cold, which was already dominant.  My feet froze, since I was without shoes and only the torn pieces of my shirt served to cover them.  I rubbed the soles of my feet, but the advantage of doing so was very small. 

After we were already there for more than a day, Feivish from Zhulkin expressed his opinion that we would not be able to survive here, and that we must leave the place before the goyim would find us.  Feivish was a village Jew, strong and broad.  His speech in Ukrainian was similar to that of the goyim.  He decided to go down from the pile of clover and approach the village in order to get some food.  He returned at night, bringing bread with him, along with news regarding the murders of Zelig and Benyamin's wife.  We divided the food equally between us.  At an hour toward morning, when it still was dark, we came down from the pile and turned toward the forest.

I Remained Alone

When I came down, I almost could not feel my feet; it was as if they were paralyzed.  I could only walk very slowly, and could not keep up with everyone else.  I was walking as if I were using someone else's feet.  After I had gone a short distance, I was attacked by terrible pains.  I knew that the members of our group would get far away from me and that I would not be able to catch up with them.  It began to get light.  I was not far from the houses of the village.  There was light shining from one of the windows, and I decided to go to that house, even though the light of morning was already growing stronger.

I neared the house and opened the door.  Inside sat a goya, spinning thread.  When she saw me, she began to cross herself and whisper a prayer: 

"Buzhinko, buzhinko (my G-d, my G-d)!  What they have done to you?  How you look!  How is it that you are running around here?  The Germans will catch you!" 

I thought that she wanted me to leave the house, and I already wanted to go.  But she said to me: 

"Stay here, stay.  Where will you go?"

The goy, owner of the house, came out and he didn't say a word.  I sat down in the corner next to the door.  It was very warm in the house, and in the heat, the pains grew stronger.  I began to take the rags off my feet, and I saw that the soles of my feet were black and full of blisters.  The goya approached me.  She looked at my feet and tears streamed from her eyes: 

"How will you be able to walk in such a condition?"

She went and brought some goose fat and rubbed it on my feet.  She wrapped them in bandages and gave me some lapchos.  She put some baked potatoes and some raw potatoes into my pockets.  I was walking on my heels, because walking on my toes was horribly painful.

The heat in the house intoxicated me, and I didn't want to leave.  A kind of sluggishness fell over me.  But the look in the eyes of the goya taught me that I had no hope of being able to stay in the house, and I had to leave.  She told me a bit about the fearful searches they were conducting here, so as to prove to me how great the danger was.

Suddenly, I saw that she was looking out the window with a great fear, and she immediately said: 

"A very dangerous man is coming close to the yard.  A very dangerous man.  You must run away or hide."

I didn't know what to do.  There was no logic in going outside, because as soon as I did, I would encounter him.  I confined myself into the corner where I was sitting, with the feeling that everything was lost.  Suddenly, the door opened and a goy came into the house very hurriedly.  In his haste, he went away from the door to the inside of the house, and he didn't see me sitting in the corner.  But I saw him very well.  I saw him and the knife in a leather pouch attached at his hip.  I saw him in a flash, and in a flash I got up and opened the door and slipped outside.  Outside, a thick snow was falling.  Suddenly all my pain was forgotten and I found inestimable strengths.  I began to run in the direction of the forest. 

But he also felt my departure.  When I was not far from the house, I saw that the goy was chasing after me.  His knife was in his hand, and as he ran, he shouted:

"Stop him!  He's a Jew!  Stop him!"

I don't know where I found the strength, but my running grew stronger and faster, and the distance between us grew greater.  Outside there was no sign of life.   I reached the forest, and he came after me.  He continued to chase me for a distance inside the forest, but I saw him stop and hesitate.  He stood there wondering for a few minutes, and then he retraced his footsteps.  I continued to go farther into the thickness of the forest. 

Afterwards, I was told that this was a goy from Dolgovolya, who caught Jews that were hiding and turned them over to the Germans for payment.

I came to a place in the forest, but it was not the place where I was supposed to meet the people in my group.  I sat down, breathing heavily, without knowing what to do.  I felt that the will to live that had been lit and awakened in me wonderful strengths to flee, was fading and going away.  My strength was almost depleted.  I sat on a tree trunk, and I didn't know what to do or where to go.  I couldn't even cry.

There was a Polish village in that area.  There were plenty of rumors that the Poles were better than the Ukrainians, because they suffered from the Germans and also from the Ukrainians.  This made them and the Jews brothers in trouble…

While I sat, discouraged and without direction, I remembered that village, and I decided to go there.  But I didn't know the way.  I remembered that the village was located on the other side of the forest, and that the way there was a long one. I regarded the matter as a purpose to be used at the right time.  For now, I decided to go deeper into the forest.  I came to the place where there was a lot of hyssop growing.  I dug into it.  In my pocket I had a few baked potatoes.  The winter was not yet at its full strength.  Shepherds came here to find food for their sheep.  I was very afraid of them.  During the days I took the trouble to hide myself well, and I only went out of my hiding place at night.  I was lying in wait in my hiding place for the shepherds, and I surveyed their going and coming.  I waited for the right time – when only one shepherd would be nearby, and then I would be able to go out and talk to him.

One morning, I saw that the right time had come – only one shepherd, a boy of about 14, came near me.  He sat on the stump of a tree and ate.  I approached him.  I was dirty, and my hair was ruffled and wild.  I had been alone in the forest for about 6 weeks.  My appearance frightened him greatly.  He wanted to get up and run away, but his limbs were suddenly paralyzed and he couldn't move.  I said to him:

"Don't run away, and don't be afraid.  I won't hurt you.  I am very hungry.  Maybe you have something you can give me, maybe a slice of bread?"

He took some of his food out of his bag and gave it to me.  When he calmed down, he wanted to know who I am.  I told him that I am a Jew.  He told me about the Jews that the Germans caught.  I did not stay near him for long; I knew it was dangerous and returned to the depths of the forest. 

 

The situation continued for two weeks.  Inside the bushy hyssop, the cold did not rule over me.  On the contrary, a warm vapor stayed within.  But the vapor had a bad influence on the condition of my feet.  I felt that not only the skin, but also the flesh was turning black, rotting away.  I told myself that I would collapse here and rot away.  I decided to leave the place and go to the Polish village Porosl. 

Kind People

One of the shepherds told me that the distance to this village was five kilometers.  The path passed through the middle of the forest.  It took me an entire day to do the five kilometers.  I went very slowly and carefully.  Toward evening, the houses of the village were revealed.  There were 12 houses.  I had been told that in the house at the edge of the village lived one Pole who was kind to the Jews, and that his name was Gomolka.  At first, I was afraid to approach the house and inform on myself.  In the end, I gathered the courage.  I approached the door and knocked slowly.  I heard a voice answer.  I was given permission to enter.  When the housewife saw me, she grabbed my hands and pulled me behind the stove.

 

"Woe to me," said the goya.  "I have my own troubles.  My husband isn't home.  The Germans are looking for him."

She invited me to sit down, and hurried to serve me some food.  I asked her to prepare a bandage for me.  From her hurriedness and fear, I learned that it was forbidden for me to remain there, and I already wanted to leave the house.

"Don't hurry," said the woman.  "If you have already come here, you can stay here to sleep."  She expressed sincere participation in my troubles and showered me with words of comfort.  She brought me various rags and all kinds of ointments – of course, they were home remedies.  She spread these over my wounds and bandaged them.  After that, she told me to go up on the stove to get warm.  She sat near me and poured out the bitterness in her heart – they suspected her husband of having a connection with the partisans.  I didn't close my eyes all night.  My pain was great, but I conquered my groans and tried to lie quietly. 

Toward morning, when the darkness was still thick, the woman came and talked to me to justify herself.  She wanted to convince me that her intentions were good, but she could not continue to house me, because they were following her husband and they were liable to come here at any moment, and if they would find me in her house, she would be burnt along with me.  Therefore, she asked me to leave the house as soon as possible.  She suggested that I go to the Polish village Krusheva, where, according to what she said, there was a Pole who had connections with the Jews, and without a doubt he would help me get to the place where they were.  She gave me a few signs how I would know what house to go to, but she warned me to go there secretly and not to ask anyone on the way where the Pole lives.

I went out of the house.  Outside, it was still dark, but I did not turn toward that village.  I found a device for drying fodder at one of the farms and I hid inside it.  From time to time, the owner of the house came to take some clover and it was a miracle that I was not wounded by the pitchfork that he used to dig into the heap.

In the evening, I went out of the pile of fodder to examine the neighborhood, and I didn't know where I would go.  I wandered outside confused, and returned to the pile.  This occurred several times, until one evening I started out on the way – as the Polish woman had instructed me. 

I came to the village in the late hours of the evening.  I found the house according to the signs that the Polish woman gave me.  I stood and waited next to the house.  I  fought with myself whether or not to go in, because of the worry that I had made a mistake nevertheless.  I was still standing and hesitating, when a goy approached.  This was the Polish man, the owner of the house, and he asked me:

"What are you doing here, aren't you one of the Jewish children?"

I told him that I had heard that in this village they knew where the Jews were hiding in the forest, and that I came to find a way to reach them.  He took me into his house and began to question me as to how I found this out.  I did not reveal who had told me about this.  I just said that I had been in Porosl.

In the end, he said that indeed he knows where the Jews are located, but he did not have permission to reveal it, because the Jews themselves made him swear not to reveal the matter, not even to a Jew.  At the end, he added that because I was still a young lad, he would try to find a way for me to go there.

I remained in the goy's house for a night and a day.  The second night, he came to me and said:

"I will harness my horse to my sled and fill it with fodder.  You will hide in the fodder, and that is how I will bring you to another Polish village, to a villager who lives at the entrance to the forest where the Jews are located.  That villager – you can trust him.  He will direct you and show you where to go."

And that is how it was.  We travelled about four kilometers from the village until we arrived at the house at the edge of the forest.  Not far from the house, he took me out of the sled and said:

"There are a lot of girls in the house.  Don't be embarrassed and don't be afraid.  Gird your loins like a man and go inside.  There, they will already tell you what to do." 

The villager returned as he had come, and I approached the house and knocked on the door. 

The door opened, and the goy, the owner of the house came out.  Again, the same questions as always: where was I from, and who sent me?  The questions were asked almost severely.  In the end, I was brought into the house.  I was given food and drink, and they even interested themselves in the condition of my feet.  I remained all night in that house, and early in the morning when it was still dark, the villager took me out of the house and brought me 200 meters into the forest.  Caution had become second nature to me.  Even though I knew that this villager was my benefactor, I nevertheless took the trouble to go at some distance from him, and I watched his hands the whole time, so that if I would reveal a plot against me, I would have time to evade him and flee. 

"Do you see the footprints in the snow?" he asked me.  "Follow them and you will get to a certain place.  Somewhere you will find a bunker dug into the ground and there you will find the ones you are looking for." 

I Found Jews

I walked for about an hour and a half in the forest, following the footprints, until I arrived at a place where I saw a kind of raised mound covered with snow.  A bare log, without a covering of snow, stuck up out of the mound.  I looked hard at the log and I saw that it was a chimney.  I understood that this was a zhamlanka.  Now, I started to look for the entrance so I could go inside.  I found it in a few minutes.  I opened the door, and a great warmth hit my face.  The bunker was empty.  According to the various possessions in the zhamlanka, I understood that Jews were living here.  A torn prayer book was placed in one of the corners.  I found some cooked potatoes, slices of bread, and a stove with whispering coals inside it.  All of these signs testified that the people who live here went out a short time ago.  I closed the door from the inside and lay down to rest.  Many thoughts pressed upon me:  perhaps Germans had been here and took out the Jews who were hiding.  Toward evening, I heard people approaching and talking in whispers.  Suddenly, the door was opened and somebody waited next to the entrance and asked:

"Eimatser iz dorten da? (Is there someone inside?)

"Don't be afraid," I answered.  "I am a Jew!" 

All at once, 13 or 14 people came in.

"Were you here all day?" someone asked.

I told them how I had come here.  It was explained to me that the Germans had conducted a hunt in the area, but they didn't come here.  Feivish, Charna Pinchuk's husband from Vladimirets, lived in this zhamlanka.  The others were village Jews from Zholudsk:  Kendel, Noach Kantor, his brother Leizer-Velvel and his three sisters, Ziskind, and four Poles that the Germans were searching for.

Feivish told me that our group had separated.  He headed for the Polish village and the rest of the members of the group spread out in different places.  When the owners of the zhalamka came in, an argument broke out.  There isn't any room, argued part of the inhabitants.  But Noach Kantor and the Poles were on my side.

"Where will he go?  He is still a boy.  He will stay here!" they argued, and finally their argument was accepted.

In this zhalamka there were two rifles, a Russian sub-machine gun, ammunition and grenades.  These weapons belonged to the Poles.

The flesh on my feet began to fall off because of rot, until the bones could be seen.  A terrible odor came from my feet.  I was assisted by all kinds of worthless remedies – mainly ointments.

If we got news that a hunt was taking place, and everyone fled, I would crawl like a snake to a place not far from the zhalamka and hide.

A few kilometers from our hiding place, there was a very large bridge over the railroad track from Kobel to Sarny.  The bridge extended over a large valley.  The place was 15 kilometers from Vladimirets.  This bridge was carefully guarded by the Germans. 

One night, four men wearing berets and armed with Russian rifles came to us.  They were brought by a Pole who was a contact.  The purpose of their arrival was reconnaissance and to become familiar with the territory before an act of sabotage at the bridge.  They stayed with us for a time.  They spoke in Russian, but it seemed to me that one of them was a Jew.  They told us that after they blew up the bridge they would take us to a safer place, near Pinsk – there the regime was in the hands of the partisans.  From time to time, they would go out on their excursions in the area, and after several days they would return.  When they left us, five of the men who were residents of the zhalamka joined them.  Leizer Kantor was one of these.

After a time, the condition of my feet improved.  All of my thoughts were given to obtaining a weapon and joining the partisans.

In the zhalamka I enjoyed an attitude of mercy, also on the part of the Poles.  They took care of me and treated me to food that they brought from their expeditions.  They allowed me to take care of the weapons, and they taught me how to take them apart and put them together.  And I was drawn to these instruments; I found them very interesting.  The end of these Poles was that they were denounced and caught, and afterward they were hung.

At that time, there was a horrible incident in the Polish village Porosl.  One day, many partisans arrived in this village.  They were Ukrainian nationalists, but they disguised themselves as Soviet partisans.  In that village there were two Jews who were working there secretly.    One of them was named Feivish Krock, a shoemaker by profession.  The name of second Jew, who worked as a tailor, was Velvel.  Both of them lived in a cellar in the house of one of the Poles, and there they worked.  Everyone in the village was full of happiness at the arrival of the battalion of partisans, and the goy who was their benefactor went down to the cellar and said to them:

"My friends, our hour has come.  Now you can come out of the cellar and see the light of day and get some pleasure from our army, who will take revenge on our enemies."

But the goy's wife, who was more hesitant, said that nevertheless, it would be worthwhile to wait a bit and not hurry to come out.  First, we must be convinced who they really are and see how they act.

The village woman's words were accepted by the two Jews, and they remained in the cellar.  In the village, there was a holiday feeling.  The partisans resided in every house; they ordered abundant meals; they also asked that afternoon meals be prepared for them.  All day long they played music and sang, and acted like real Russians.  One day, toward evening, the partisans came and said that they didn't have time for food; they must leave the place, but so that the residents of the village would not see the direction where they went, they ordered everyone to be blindfolded.  In every house, that is what was done.

The entire time, the two Jews sat in the cellar and did not go out.  Suddenly, there were the sounds of blows and something falling down.  Afterwards, it was silent.  In a short time, they knew that something was dripping into the cellar, and it quickly became clear to them that it was a red liquid.  They sat, frightened, not knowing what was happening.  The liquid was blood.  Their hearts told them that something had happened and that they must wait and not go out of the cellar.  After a time, they tried to lift the trapdoor of the cellar and they were unable to do so.  Something heavy was lying on the door.  When they finally got out of the cellar, they were amazed to see that the entire family was lying there with their heads cut off.  The two Jews snuck out of the house and fled to the forest.  In shock, they found their way to us and told us what happened, but they didn't know whether it had happened only in their house, or also in other houses.

The next day, news reached us from the neighboring village that all of the Polish residents of Porosl, from infants to the elderly, had been murdered in that way.  My benefactor Gomulka, his wife and their children, were also among the victims.

One other incident – already in the warm days of spring:  five partisans came to us in the forest.  We received them in friendship and they sat with us outside the zhalamka and told us a lot about the experiences of the partisans and their various activities.  We drank their words thirstily.  At that moment, a Polish man who had contact with us approached our place.  From a distance, he saw only the partisans and not us.  For some reason, he thought that they were Ukrainian nationalists.  His imagination awakened the estimation that they had murdered all of the residents of the zhalamka and that now they were planning to attack the Polish village.  The Pole began to run from the forest toward the village, in order to warn them in time.  While he was running, he met one of our people, who had difficulty in calming him down after hearing his story and convincing him that he was mistaken. 

With the Partisans

These were days full of blood, in which life and death were in the hands of blind coincidence.  The illness of my feet ended in my being deprived of a toe and half of another toe, but in the end my feet healed.  I went around a lot with the partisans who were located in the area and came to visit us.  I explored the area quite a bit.  I did this with the excitement of an energetic lad whose vigor of life had not dried up.  In spite of all that threatened, the will to fight the Germans, the destroyers of our people and my family, beat unceasingly within me.  At that time, great danger to the village Zalaviche was expected.  Night after night, the Poles were attacked and murdered. 

I remember that one night, we decided to go outside the zhalamka because it was unbearably suffocating in there, and sleep in the field on the fresh and fragrant fodder that had just been harvested. We were five people.  At midnight, we suddenly heard shooting and explosions, and we saw a large fire rising from Zalaviche village.  We began to run back to the forest.  We heard them chasing after us and shooting.  We did go deep into the forest, but the shooting did not stop, and there now were many dangers involved in our remaining here.  We decided to leave the place and wander toward the concentrations of partisans.

We walked for two nights and a day, stopping occasionally to rest, and passed over a distance of approximately 40 kilometers.  Thus, we arrived at the village Molczicz.  In the past, its residents had been murderers par excellence, but now they extended their help to us and took an interest in our well-being.

Here, I met Jews from Vladimirets:  Sender Appelboim and his father; Asher Kamin; Asher and Eliezer Guz.  My meeting with Asher Kamin was emotional.  Asher was from a good, well-established home.  The hardships in the forest broke him completely.  He sat and cried while he told me about everything that had happened to him.  He asked me if I had met anyone from his family.  He was crushed and broken, and he never stopped talking about what had happened to us.

We were together for only one day, and then our paths parted.  I continued to go with my group.  I arrived in the area around Melinuk.  Here, a new partisan group was being organized and I met Yerucham, Yisrael-Yossel's son.  He also was very broken, and when we met, he cried a lot.  His clothes were worn out.  I took off my coat and gave it to him.  I also met him several times after that. 

The battalion that was formed was named for Wanda Wassilewska.  They accepted only fighters with weapons.  The officer of the battalion was Bogulek.  He chose me to guard his horses and be his messenger boy.  In those days, this was an appointment of honor with many opportunities.  Consequently, he liked me.  I served in this position for a few months.  I was well-dressed, with a nice fur and good boots.  I was like a member of the family to him and his family, their favorite child.  But this became loathsome to me.  The bitterness in my heart sought another horizon.  I had thoughts of obtaining a weapon and running away from here to another partisan battalion.  But because of my young age, it was doubtful whether they would accept me as an actual fighter.

A typhoid epidemic was spreading, and its victims were many.  I also was struck by this illness.  They took me to one of the villages and left me there.  For weeks, I lay on the floor and was fed potatoes, until I recovered. 

Bogulek was murdered by Schmidt's men – men of the Armia Kariova (A.K.) – and the battalion fell apart.  During the withdrawal, I succeeded in buying a French rifle and 15 bullets and in hiding all this under a pile of straw.  When they began to search for the rifle, their suspicion fell on me.  I was beaten a great deal.  Nevertheless, I succeeded in sneaking away from the place and even took the weapon with me.  I joined the ranks of partisans that were heading toward the Russian front, in the direction of Sarny.  Many of the Russians and Ukrainians deserted the partisans and went home.  We Jews, of course, had nowhere to go.  I made a strong decision to get to Sarny and volunteer for the army.  I was 15 ½ years old at that time.  I had only one thought that filled my soul:  to avenge, to avenge! 

I reported to the Russian headquarters and requested to be drafted.  They looked at me with a negative smile and answered:

"You must go away from here and learn in school, not fight.  You are still a boy."

A Further Price

In the end, I was transferred with other draftees to Cracow, for months of training.  I received a uniform and was a real soldier.  I trained for five months.  The War still continued.  I was worried that meanwhile, the War would end and I would not be able to take revenge.    I submitted several requests to be sent to the front, and every time my request was rejected, always with the same excuse, that I was still too young.  A short time later, I was sent to a communications course.  I spent a month in the course, where I learned the rules of field communications.  Again, I submitted a request to be sent to the front.  This time, I was answered positively.  They promised to attach me soon to one of the battalions.  And so it was…

I participated in many battles until we arrived in Germany and fought on its soil.  In April of 1945, a large battle was spread for the purpose of eliminating the remains of the German army, who fought very stubbornly.  The battle was a bitter one, and I was injured in my right arm.  As a result of this wound, they were forced to amputate part of my arm.  This was another price that I paid in addition to everything else and everything that I lost in the War.  Only the feeling that indeed I fought and took revenge, only that could somewhat sweeten the heavy judgment.
 
 


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