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Two From a Family

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Sender Appleboim

** Webmaster Note: The following translation was generously provided by Diane Moore.  We have presented it here exactly as it was translated for us.  Sender Appleboim mentions a lot of people, some who lived and some who died.  His story of running during the slaughter and hiding in the forest is echoed in other chapters. Note:  "Estherke" and "Senderke" are yiddish diminutives for Esther & Sender.

TWO FROM A FAMILY

It was in October, 1941, that our whole family left Rafalovka, the town where we were living, and moved to Vladimirets. We were five: father, mother, my brother Yaakov, my little sister Esther, and me. Vladimirets was my father's birthplace, and we had many relatives there, so we thought that in this place it might be easier for us to get through the bad days. My father knew the area well, and he had many acquaintances in the villages. His occupation in peacetime was dealing in wood; from this came his connections with people in the villages, and some of them became his friends and admirers. For all these reasons we got up one day, left Rafalovka, and moved to Vladimirets.

In My Father's Home Town

I knew that town well. For vacations I used to go and stay with my relatives there. I loved the good spirit that this town was blessed with. But now, we arrived there to face a completely different situation. Not long before, all the Jews of the town had been ordered inside a boundary that confined all their comings and goings -- really a ghetto. Indeed the place was surrounded by a wire fence, and going out without permission, even crossing the street, was forbidden. In the streets that formed the ghetto were also the Jews who had been brought in from the neighboring villages, and the crowding was terrible.

The Germans kept a registry of all the inhabitants of the ghetto, and according to this registry everything that went on in the place was scrutinized. Each of us was marked with two patches, one on the back and one on the chest, so they could recognize us easily and not make a mistake about us, God forbid. From mouth to ear, word passed of the dreadful things that took place -- people sent somewhere to work-places, so to speak, and not returning. A Judenrat (Jewish council) was selected: Yaakov Eisenberg, Nathan Tscherniak, Yaakov Tscherniak, Ben-Zion Zhuk, and others.

The position of the council members was very hard. These were well-known and popular personalities of the town, and their wish to work for the welfare of the community now bore no fruit. From time to time the Germans came to the Council with demands for great sums of gold, various items of clothing, and so on. A spirit of oppression and helplessness dominated all around. But in Vladimirets, which was famous for its charitable organizations and ties of friendship among all the inhabitants, this tradition of good relationships continued, kept alive in the embers. Therefore the situation was better there than in other places.

People of Miracle

Our family was staying now at Joseph-Chaim Lusternik's house, a house that had been an inn. One room was allocated to us and the five of us crowded into it. I became friendly in those days with the children of Moshe the baker. In the second room from ours was a family who came from the village of Khinuchi. The father of that family was called by the name of the place he came from: "Khunya the Khinucher". These were simple people, but generous and innocent of heart. We were like one family. I recall that Khunya succeeded in bringing into the ghetto, when he came from his village, several sacks of flour, and they were divided with us, half and half. Also at that time a women's council was active, and one of the members was our relative Chava Eisenberg. From time to time we received some support from the council and we shared with Khunya's family. My mother and Khunya's wife became good friends, and this made our lives easier and added to the spirit of devotion between our families. My mother was a corset-maker and at times she could do some of this work for the gentile women. They smuggled potato sprouts into the ghetto in payment for her work. We arranged a little garden not far from the house, and planted our potatoes. I remember that one day Joseph Slivkin came and said to Mother that he thought someone was stealing potatoes from the garden, and Mother said to him, "I'm sure they do steal them. People who have enough don't steal potatoes, and surely they are hungry like us."

Khunya's family was distinguished by a spirit of optimism, and their strength was to inspire this spirit also in others. They never seemed to give up hope. We were already hearing about the murders in various places around us, and when depression overwhelmed most of us, Khunya would encourage those in the depths of melancholy, and say, "Jews, keep in mind one thing, it is forbidden to go about with a miserable mind.. There is a way to seek; it is forbidden to despair!"

He was always raising plans for escape from the ghetto. According to him, there were in his home village and in the neighboring villages gentile friends, and he believed with all his heart that these would help him in time of need. In these plans of his, he wasn't thinking only of his family but also of us. The hearts of all that family were always giving to others. Five or six months we lived with them in one apartment, and I don't recall a single quarrel between members of that family. And remember that these were days of crisis and horror. To this day I see in them miraculous people, inspiring noble feelings in the heart.

But also the whole life of Vladimirets continued to contribute to our encouragement. People tried to keep spirits up, in every way possible.

I was then a boy of 13 and went out with many others to gather potatoes. I remember that at the time of the harvest there were two girls in the place, whose names I've forgotten, and they ruled and enlivened the times of rest and recreation that our work allowed us. In Vladimirets any good time that came along was treasured, and even jokes were heard from time to time.

I had several friends, whose names escape me. One of them was the son of Ben-Zion Zhuk. I recall that we sometimes went together to Moshe the baker's house, and talked over plans of escape, because from a window of that house it was possible to see over the fields and the woods, the park and the wide meadows. All this awakened hope in us, for there were still spaces for living things in our world and there were places to hide and to oppose the enemies of our people. There were already rumors of wonderful warriors hidden somewhere in the depths of the forests and wreaking vengeance on the Germans.

Generally, there weren't many Germans in the ghetto. The Ukrainians were supposed to be in control. And compared with other communities, the situation in Vladimirets was much easier. This came about because the officer in charge of the ghetto, Andrei Mucha, was a good friend of Yaakov Eisenberg. Andrei Mucha always tried to rein in the Ukrainian police, as much as possible, and sometimes succeeded. One occasion will show the relationship and how he treated the Jews.

From one of the neighboring villages where some Jewish families were staying, rumors arrived one day that Ukrainians had attacked the Jews, robbing and killing. When Andrei Mucha got word of it, he went out with a group of policemen to that place, and managed to arrest the robbers and return the Jews' property. These things we heard from a Jew who came from that village and who was later transferred to the Vladimirets ghetto.
However, the special relationship with the officer in charge could remain a little bit lenient but couldn't change the real situation. The goal of the Germans was to clear out the Jews and destroy them, and that day was not long in coming. The Germans' satanic plan was well calculated and put into action everywhere, as well as in Vladimirets.

The Day of Destruction Approaches

A short time before the day of our annihilation, I don't remember exactly, but a week or more, an order went out that all inhabitants of the ghetto must assemble by the pond for a general check. According to the Germans' declaration, the purpose of the assembly was to make sure that no Jews had run away from the ghetto. All the ghetto inhabitants presented themselves that day, and after we were counted, we returned each to his house. Life in the ghetto dragged on as usual B in anguish and fear.
I was sent out that day to work in the fields; my father, to load wood on wagons; my brother, Yaakov, worked as an assistant to the Judenrat. It was already the month of Elul when frightful news of mass murder began to spread. Everyone felt that something would happen any day now.

Gentiles said that the area around Vladimirets had received a reinforcement of police. Rumors of Jewish communities that had already been destroyed stirred up terror and confusion. Many families began to prepare various hiding-places, disguised bunkers, in attics and cellars. Some groups of Jews who had worked outside Vladimirets did not return to the ghetto, and all trace of them was lost.

If I'm not mistaken, it was Wednesday. That day the news of horror got worse. Everyone already knew that the next Friday we would be called to another registration assembly. Now the news hinted of a special terror. Our hearts told of something dreadful to come, and their prophecies were not groundless. We heard that day that great pits were being dug behind the town, and that an officer had brought a large police contingent from Antonovka. That day I went to the Judenrat to see my brother Yaakov, and the picture is engraved in my memory: Schreiber, the secretary of the Judenrat, came outside and faced the assembled people.

"Jews," he said despairingly, "there is only one thing left for us to do - poison ourselves; nothing else!" I went home very depressed and told my mother what I had seen and heard. But I added that I didn't believe that the world was ending. In my opinion, I said, there would be a counting of the inhabitants, as usual. But the family was terrified. We parted from Khuni's family, and that evening we went to the house of our relative, Yaakov Eisenberg.

That evening we were witnesses to something extraordinary and of deep significance. A delegation of Ukrainians came to Yaakov Eisenberg, surely on the initiative of Andrei Mucha, and told him that they were prepared to rescue him and some of his immediate family. Eisenberg was a bachelor. He did not accept their offer, and replied that his lot would be the same as that of all the Jews. He would seek no salvation for himself alone. Not wishing this matter to cause panic in the family, Yaakov tried to calm everyone's spirits. But all were already plunged in profound terror, and no one slept that night.

This noble conduct of Yaakov Eisenberg's occupied my mind a great deal during my later wanderings in the forest, at a time when I was given to meditation on the concept of martyrdom. To that scene which I witnessed were added afterwards things that were told in the forest: how Yaakov walked first to the pits, how he hung his cane on one of the trees, and raised his eyes to the community moving toward death, and descended into the pit. What did it demonstrate, that glance in that hour? Did he mean to say that he was always with them, that he always acted not for his own good, but for theirs? That even now, from all the possibilities that lay to his hand, he chose only the one possibility, to be with his community? These were thoughts that came afterwards, but at the time we were in the midst of the horror and not in a position to meditate on it.


My Mother's Will

Friday came, the 15th of Elul, 5702 (August 28, 1942). In the distance we heard gunshots, which meant to us that they were shooting people trying to escape. We heard policemen yelling, as they went from house to house, driving the Jews out to the gathering place. In the morning we went to our uncle Sender Appelboim, who lived next door to Yaakov Eisenberg. By that time, the police were there too, and started hurrying us out of the house. When we hesitated, they rained curses and threats on us. We were out in the street. It was a bright sunny morning. I walked next to my mother, and my sister, Estherke, walked with Father. From all directions we saw families walking together with their heads down, shuddering with fear. I saw families walking and crying, families kissing each other farewell for the last time. On the other hand, I remember that Shmuel Elimelech and the "lamed vavnik" walked quietly in their prayer shawls with their heads high, and encouraged everyone, saying that we should not lose faith in the Master of the Universe. To this day I marvel at the profound life force the Jews showed in that terrible hour.

"And if it is really decreed that we must die, we shall die as Jews should, saying 'Shema Yisrael' and the vidui." I walked like one stupefied. I recall asking my mother, "Is it really true, we'll never come back home?"

"I don't think we'll come back," my mother replied, "but remember, my child, you must do all you can to escape. You must stay alive, my child. Don't think of yourself as nothing. You are young and agile. If there is the least possibility, run with all your might. Remember, my child, that this is my will: you must stay alive."

Her words were spoken with extraordinary inward force. I heard them like a sacred vow, that I must fulfill with all my being. My heart almost stopped beating, and I asked her breathlessly, "And what will happen to you, Mama, and Papa, and Estherke? How can I leave you?"

"Don't worry about us," she answered. "You mustn't worry about us, you must just run the first time you get a chance. We will run after you." We walked on in silence. Suddenly I heard my mother's voice, a voice of sorrowful meditation as she spoke to herself and to my father. "We hoped to lead our children to the marriage canopy. Woe to us; where are we leading our children?"

Now we arrived at the gathering place, where the roll was to be taken. Yankeleh, my brother, was not with us. He was among those who had worked in the Judenrat. It was terribly crowded. We struggled to stand in a place where there were fewer people, with the intention that it might be easier to escape.

Suddenly a shot was heard, right over our heads. And a loud and terrifying voice: "Jews, save yourselves!" Like an electric current, that voice shocked me and at once I heard my mother's voice, I saw her eyes as she cried out to me, "Why are you standing there, Senderke? Run!"

My Escape

I started running in the direction of the open meadow.. I glanced behind me and saw that my mother was following.

I saw that the whole crowd was falling to the ground; the shots coming faster. Again as I ran I looked back at the field and saw people wounded and murdered. I ran as fast as I could. Suddenly I felt as if a stone hit my foot. I took no notice of it, but when I felt a sort of weakness come over me, and a warm wetness on my foot, I put my hand where I had been hit and realized that my hand was red with blood, and understood that I had been wounded. Now I heard the voice of a policeman who was running after me, "Halt, halt!"

With all my strength I ran on, but my foot was getting weaker. The policeman kept chasing me. I came to a fence around an isolated hut. To this day I don't know where I got the strength to jump over that fence. Before my pursuer reached it, I had run into a pig stall that stood in the yard and quick as lightning, buried myself under a layer of manure. The inhabitants of the hut saw me run into the stall, but it seems they didn't tell. In a few minutes I heard people walking around in the stall, hunting and scrabbling. In a moment they would find me and that would be the end of me, I thought. But they didn't notice me. A little later I heard one of them say, "He's hiding somewhere in this yard!"

I heard curses and screams. And in a few minutes I heard shooting and dying groans. For a long time I stayed buried in the manure, until all was quiet. When I was sure all the police had gone, I came out of the manure-pile and saw that my foot was still bleeding. My thoughts were of my father and mother, my sister and my brother. I was sure they had met a violent death. I became indifferent to my own fate. "It doesn't matter if they catch me or not; what good is my life after I've lost everyone I loved?"

When evening fell, I came out of my lair and looked around. In the distance I saw how the bodies were being gathered up from the field and loaded on wagons. I took off my shirt and bound up my foot with it. I crawled into the manure again, and lay there until it was really night. Now I remembered what my mother had said to me, and it awakened in me a strong determination to live. I must not stay there; I must go to the woods. Slowly I left the stall, and began limping toward the woods.

Shadows, trying to slip across the fields -- they were Jews, running to save themselves, just like me. I knew that I must not depend on anyone. I must muster all my strength and help myself. I found a stick and leaning on it, I dragged myself along. It was no great distance to the woods, about a hundred yards, but it seemed very long to me.

The blood was already soaking through the bandage. It was dark all around. From time to time a shadow slipped past, close to me.

Wounded and Alone

In my pocket I had my little prayerbook. When I arrived in the woods I stood by a tree and said Kaddish. I was sure my family had been killed.

Alone in the wood, I hid in the thickets like a frightened animal. Now and then I came out to pick berries for food. My wound had stopped bleeding, but was still open and painful. Christians lived near here, friends of my father's. I thought about going to them, but I was afraid. Cold and nightmares tormented me. Three times a day I said Kaddish, and many Psalms.

When I heard footsteps or voices, I would slip deep in the undergrowth so no one, God forbid, would notice me. Finally I decided to go to my father's gentile friend. I went to the cottage, but I wasn't welcome there. When I told them whose son I was, the gentile gave me a loaf of bread and told me not to come to him again. One of his family started yelling that I should get away from there immediately. I returned dejectedly to my forest lair.

One day I heard someone speaking Yiddish. Coming out of the bushes, I met several Jews from Vladimirets on their way back to the town. Despairing and defeated, they told me there was no future in staying here in the forest. They recounted their sufferings and suggested that I go with them. I must say their despair infected me too. Nevertheless, I did not take their advice. I stayed in the woods.

I think it was at dawn, the morning after my meeting with the Vladimirets Jews, that two Ukrainians suddenly spotted me, boys of sixteen or seventeen. I tried to hide in the under- brush, but without success. They shouted at me: "What are you doing here, Jew?"

My only protection was to awaken a little mercy in them. AI ran away from the Germans, and I'm badly wounded.."

"You won't run away from the Germans any more, because your end is coming." And so saying, one of them pulled out a knife. At that time, a gentile received a reward of salt or sugar for every Jew he caught and handed over to the Germans. I knew about that. Still I didn't give up and I tried to speak to their conscience.

"What good will it do you to hand me over to the Germans? I had a big family and now I'm the only one left."

"You always were a tricky bunch. The Germans are doing the right thing, wiping you out."

The discussion of crime and justice may have been what saved me, because my debating skills were certainly stronger than theirs. I talked like one submissive and terrified, but the logic of my words had some effect. I saw their blood-lust weaken.

"Please," I said, "you can ask anyone around here. All the villagers knew my father. Try asking about the Appelboims. You won't find even one of them who will say a bad word about him. A lot of the villagers really liked him and were his friends. You can take everything from me, my coat and everything I own."

I saw that they were somewhat embarrassed and didn't know how to answer me. They hesitated a few minutes, but quickly made up their minds and stripped my coat off me. In return they left me some of their food, and hurried back to their flocks.

I had to get away from that place. I went deeper into the wood, several kilometers farther. I found a place where the trees were very dense, and settled myself in there. I was still saying Kaddish three times a day, and living on berries that I gathered. My wound got very dirty, and hurt more and more.

To Die with my Sister

I decided to go to one of the houses in the village. This village was called Vidmir. I went to a gentile called Yashka, a good friend of my father's. This time I succeeded. The villager received my with open-hearted affection, gave me a hiding-place in his barn, brought me food and warm water to wash myself and clean my wound. He told me some good news too -- that my sister had escaped and was near by, in one of the Christians' houses. I was excited, but just that evening a terrible pain seized me, and much as I wished to run at once and see Estherke, I couldn't do it; I had to wait till the next day. The next morning at dawn I still couldn't go out.

Impatiently I waited till afternoon. The pain was still bad. At the end of the afternoon I went to the house, but here I received devastating news. They told me that a short time before, Ukrainian police had come and taken Estherke.

A feeling of doom, of a dark guilt, enveloped me. If I had come last night, perhaps everything would have turned out differently. My heart was torn; the whole reason for living and struggling was taken away; one wish mastered me, to die with my sister. I decided to run after the police and give myself up to them.

The evil chance that had fallen on me had aroused in me a great strength which I had never known before. All fear and feelings of caution vanished; I ran in the open, met some passers-by and asked them if they had seen policemen in a wagon with a little Jewish girl.

"A little while ago we did see police who were driving a Jewish girl into Vladimirets," they answered, looking at me in wonder.

Thanks to People with Hearts

Running and crying, I suddenly encountered a Christian who knew me and my family well. He stopped me, scrutinized me with amazement, and asked me what had happened and where I was running like that? Breathlessly I told him what had passed. I said that my life was worthless now. I wanted only one thing, to die with my sister.

The Christian was shocked by my words. He grabbed my hand and started yelling, "Are you crazy? What is it with you? It is forbidden to do that! I won't let you stir from here!"

With my free hand I started hitting him with all my strength, to get away from him, but he held me fast, and went on talking to me with tenderness and kindness, explaining that I must free myself from the terrible thoughts that were mastering me. I felt the forces that had awakened in me gradually leaving me, and I surrendered.

"There will be no trace left of your family," the Christian continued. "I knew your father. I won't let you carry out your idea. You must stay alive."

The Christian, a Polish man, told me that many Jews were hiding in the woods. On the other hand, he also told me that Jews who were captured suffered torture to make them reveal the hiding-places of other Jews.

He suggested that I not go back to the village, but stay in the woods. He would stay in contact with me, and bring me food.

We agreed on a place in the woods, and he brought me food there from time to time. Then for several days he didn't come, and hunger tormented me, until I came out of the wood and went into a garden to pick tomatoes, which stilled my hunger. But then I didn't have the strength to go back to the forest. The pain in my foot was worse again. I stayed in the garden, lying there almost unconscious. At dawn a Christian woman found me there. She came up to me, looked me over and said, "I know you, you're Shlomo and Sarah's son. I knew your parents very well."

She proposed that I go with her; she promised to hide me. I told her that I was wounded, and she answered that she would do all she could to heal my foot, and would keep me with her.

She led me into a barn, and brought food of all kinds honey, butter and milk. Afterward she brought various ointments, cleaned my foot gently, put a clean bandage on it, and all the while she consoled and encouraged me. "You will be with me like a son, like an only son you will be."

For several days I hid in that place. One morning when I woke up, I saw my father standing by me; he stood and wept from overpowering emotion.

Two from a family; we were the only ones left.


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