** Webmaster Note: The following
is a translation from Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov
as sponsored by George Zilbergeld.
Additional clarifications are provided in parenthesis ( ).
BETWEEN THE STRAITS
character of Vladimirets, the Jewish town with all of the charm
of its attributes as we knew it a many-branched existence
whether it was a religious Chassidic existence or one of secular
popularity the youth movements and political parties all
these came between the straits in 1939, with the entry of the
Soviets into the town.
The life of
its trade, the sources of its economy, which also were an
expression of its character all these changed completely.The stores became empty; trade was halted.Jews who were still occupied in matters of commerce knew
very well that there was a great danger in doing so, and that
tomorrow, or the next day, this source of income would also be
blocked.A mark of
disappointment and worry was imprinted on the faces of most of
was as if all of their labor over the years had been uprooted.Only a small portion of the residents found some support
also in this situation these were the few residents of the
town who received government positions.But the wages of government clerks were very tiny,
without the possibility of survival.
that the regime regarded as appropriate for use as an office or
an institution was confiscated, without many calculations.The owner of such a house received an order to vacate,
and he was required to fulfill the order within 24 hours,
without any consideration at all of the size of the family.That was, for example, the fate of the Tscherniak family,
the Beider family, and more.
government was in the hands of local people who were close to
the new regime, in the hands of those who in the past had seen
themselves as deprived.Now they began to prepare to settle various accounts that
had originated in days gone by.Thus, there was created a class of newly deprived, and a
new resentment arose the fruit of the Soviet regime.Many people who had owned property lost their assets and
left Vladimirets and wandered to other places.But there also were classes into which the new regime had
blown the breath of life, and these accepted it gladly.Thus matters continued until the German invasion.
In the Days
breakout of the German-Russian war, you immediately felt the
confusion that reigned over the new government.A general draft to the army was proclaimed immediately,
but it was all done without any order.All activities were confused and mixed up.Not every draftee reported to the draft offices, and the
parents of those who did report and were drafted were sunk in
great sorrow, because they knew that it was possible, without
any difficulty, to evade the draft.
remember how Shlomo Yaakov, Moshe Shlita's father, would
tearfully remember the foolish deed of his family when they
consented that his son Moshe would go to the army.Shlomo Yaakov was not in Vladimirets at the time, and he
was certain that if he had been present, his son would not have
joined the army.
His worry over the fate of Moshe grew greater after he found out
from some Ukrainians who had fled from the ranks of the Red Army
that the entire convoy of draftees, who had been transported by
train, was bombed by the Germans and many of the travelers had
lost their lives.
I was a
frequent visitor to the members of this family, and every time I
was witness to the tears of sorrow with which they mourned the
bitter fate that befell their dear son and themselves.I would attempt to comfort them:
"As long as
the war has not ended and there is no clear information but only
rumors and hearsay, don't mourn, because in times of emergency
it is impossible to know the real truth.It is not impossible that Moshe was rescued and nothing
bad happened to him."
Only a few
days passed from the time that war was declared until the
Russians withdrew from Vladimirets.I well remember the day of evacuation.It was a Sabbath in the month of Tammuz [roughly
corresponding to June/July], and it was also the yahrzeit
[anniversary of the death] of my father.It was a lovely, clear summer day.That Sabbath, I went to the community synagogue and was
called up to the Torah.The gabbai [sexton] was Mottel Burko and I was
honored with maftir [the last portion of the Torah
reading, including reading of the Haftorah].
were already confused and rumors were circulating.There were those who saw the withdrawal of the Red Army
as a threat, because there was a great fear of the Germans.Opposed to these, were Jews who suffered greatly during
the Russian regime, and now, with the Russian withdrawal, they
tasted some kind of revenge.
should go, these fleabags, to the Devil with them!All hope is not yet lost," someone angrily proclaimed.
some who remembered the Germans from World War I, and these
memories encouraged them and quieted their fears.I myself had some kind of position with the Russians, and
I regarded the situation with a great deal of worry.The general feeling was of depression.Even those who expressed harsh words toward the Russians
also knew that their words had been said under pressure, and
that in their hearts there was fear of tomorrow.
We went out
of the synagogue.
Next to the Christian church there was a gathering of many
residents of the town Jews and Christians alike who were
looking toward the army camp that had centered itself there
before leaving the town.We, who had come from the synagogue, also did not hurry
home, but we stood and watched the soldiers.
One of the
army men said:
"Jews, you must leave the town and run away from here.Join us.It
is forbidden for you to remain here. "
But only a
few joined the withdrawing army.Only a few left the town.All that day, the convoys of soldiers continued to pass
through the town and move east.The last groups passed through toward evening,In the town there was an oppressive silence, a kind of
silence before the storm.
afternoon, I went to see Chana Appelboim.She was a close friend of mine, and we hoped to marry.I went out with Chana into the street, and there we saw
the two Kot brothers, loaded down with bundles, preparing to
leave the town.
They both joined the men of the Red Army going eastward. Indeed,
the Kot brothers were dedicated and faithful Communists, but now
they both looked broken and depressed.There was something shocking in the look on their faces
At the end
of the day, I went to pray the afternoon and evening prayers
before that, I promised Chana that after the prayers, I would go
home for a short time and afterwards I would come back to her.
I came home
to see my mother, who was alone.My brother Chaim was already serving in the Red Army, and
my brother Eliezer was learning in
Russia.Ima [mother] was sunk in sorrow and great worry for her
two sons, as well as for me.I therefore saw a necessity to stay with her.When I came home, I suddenly heard explosions.I hurried out to the fence, to see what happened.I saw people fleeing in confusion from their homes toward
the parks and fields.I went into the house and told my mother, and together we
went out to the park to find a hiding place.We lay down in the flower beds.From a distance, we heard the shouts of rioters, who had
begun to take over the town.Relatives approached our hiding place uncles and
cousins from the Beider family and from Mottel Dik's family.We hid together all night among the plants in the park.At dawn, we left the park and each of us began to sneak
back to his house.
had an appearance of the aftermath of rioting: torn pillows and
quilts, broken furniture, feathers flying around.Mottel Burko, whom I had seen only yesterday in his
position of gabbai in the synagogue and who had honored
me with a call up to the Torah and maftir, was now lying
dead in the street.
I was shocked by the sight.It was found that he had refused to leave his house and
the rioters murdered him.Our house was not touched, and nothing had been taken.And then we received the fearful news that Benjamin Bas
and Shmulik Shustak had been injured in the bombing.That entire Sunday passed in fear, which increased with
the coming of evening.Again, everyone fled from their homes and hid in all
kinds of places.
The night between Sunday and Monday was more difficult than the
riots became stronger.That night, two more Jews were murdered:Berel der gunter and Shlomo the humpback.
we found out that the organizer of the riots was the Ukrainian
priest and that the living spirit of all of the deeds of this
organization was the son of the priest from the village
orders of the organizers were to take all of the possessions
from the Jews, but not to kill them.If someone were to show any objection, he should be
several Jews gathered in Chana Appelboim's house and it was
decided to send a chosen delegation to the Ukrainian priest and
request that he try to restrain the rioters.At the head of the delegation were Yaakov Eisenberg,
Natan Tscherniak and Ben-Zion Zhuk.When they returned, they told us that the priest had
promised that in the future, they would try not to harm people
and not to spill blood.Among other things, they told us that the son of the
priest from Ostrowiec had adopted the language of a "scientist"
and spoke to them as follows:
teaches us that every time that the Jews laugh and are happy
the Christians cry.
And the opposite is true every time the Christians are happy,
the Jews cry.
Therefore, it is better that we will be happy and you will cry."
Nevertheless, they promised that they would try not to harm any
Jews, and that they would only take their property.They added an explanation that the Jews must understand
that taking their property is not wrong, because their property
really belongs to the Christians, whom the Jews sucked dry like
they suggested that when the Christians come to the Jewish
houses, the Jews must leave their houses immediately and allow
the arrivals to do whatever they wanted to do, as they would in
their own homes.
nights of Monday and Tuesday, robberies took place as they had
on the previous nights.On Wednesday, the robberies took place during the day.A mob of villagers from all the villages in the area
arrived in town.
They stripped the clothes from every Jew that they grabbed in
happened, for example, to Michael Freidman, whom they presented
stark naked on the main road.But from that day onward it was obvious that the
organizers of the riots began to calm down the plundering mob.The riots began to subside, and thus matters continued
until the Germans entered the town.
Entry of the Germans
did not enter Vladimirets with a military parade and a show of
arrived in the town about 40 Germans in all.Some of them were members of the S.S., and some were from
the administrative units, whose task was administrative
organization in the conquered lands.The S.S. men settled themselves in Grushko's house, and
the administrative men in Beider's house.On the day of their arrival, they immediately called the
representatives of the Jewish community and requested a list of
its leaders, who would comprise the Jewish Council [Judenrat]
and would be responsible to the regime with regard to fulfilling
Yaakov Eisenberg was chosen to be Chairman of the Council.Members of the Council were the brothers Natan and Yaakov
Tscherniak and Ben-Zion Zhuk.The council was located in Sender Appelboim's house, and
it conducted its meetings there.
thing that the regime requested was a precise list of the Jewish
Jew was obligated to wear a Star of David, which was later
changed to yellow patches a patch on the chest and a patch on
the back, so they could be identified from the front and from
police force was organized.Every policeman wore a ribbon on his sleeve marked "BeJuden
Polizei" [Jewish Police].Now, after the organizational tools were established, the
of the Jews of the villages, who belonged administratively to
Vladimirets, were uprooted from their homes and moved to our
that went out would be proclaimed on a Thursday, in other words,
toward the Sabbath.
Also in times of trouble, Vladimirets proved that the
brotherhood and mutual help, characteristics for which our town
was famous in days of peace, also were very strong now.A decree was put out that every Jew had to supply 4 grams
of gold to the German coffers.Those who were unable to do so were helped by those who
were more established, who gave more than their share.It was the same when the claim was issued to supply the
regime with furs.
There was a
pleasant attitude in the town also toward those Jews who had
been uprooted from their homes in the villages.Now, it was much more crowded in the homes, but everyone
tried to bear the trouble with an attitude of understanding and
to help each other as much as possible.In general, the Jews remained living in their homes, but
it was forbidden to go out in the street.Therefore we would always leave by the back door, and
that is how the connection from house to house was maintained.
living inventory, such as horses, cows, chickens, was
confiscated by the Germans.All the Jews of the town, except for members of the
council and police, were ordered to report every morning outside
the offices of the Council for the purpose of filling various
jobs, such as cleaning the streets, sawing trees, and working
outside the town in the sawmill and near the "koleika"
[narrow gauge railroad] this work was forced labor, with no
Pesach Tscherniak worked in the houses of the Germans.We heated the ovens, cut wood and kept the courtyards
o'clock in the afternoon, we would finish our work as usual and
go home.The food
in the town was generally bad, but the mutual assistance did
help more than a little.The food was 200 grams of bread per person, per day.Once a month, they would receive half a bottle of oil.But no one died of hunger.Ima planted corn and potatoes in our garden, and there
was a plentiful harvest.Ima shared with the neighbors, and she always said:
we have, we will all eat together, and we will not worry about
what will be afterwards.We will put out trust in G-d."
family was bigger, since at the end of the month of Av
[approximately August], my brother Eliezer came home.Eliezer was born in 1923, on Chanukah.Now, he was 18 years old.During peacetime, he learned in the yeshiva in Stolin.With the Russian conquest, he returned to our town.After that, he travelled to Sarny to learn a new
profession to be a driver of a train.He stayed in Sarny until the Russians fled.
When the Russians
withdrew, he joined them and went east with them.But after they had gone a distance down the road and the
bombing of the Germans increased, everyone scattered in all
us that he was trapped in Kostopol by the Germans and suffered
few months were upset by the difficult conditions.A list of the products imposed upon the Jewish population
to provide included suit fabrics, jewelry, a great amount of
winter clothing such as sheepskins blankets and sheets all
this for the army.
In addition to that, 5 grams of gold and 100 Russian rubles per
person had to be handed over.These claims were beyond the means of the Jewish
population to supply, because part of the Jews were completely
impoverished, and the other part, who still had some resources
in its hands, did not want to part now with all of its property.Again, I was a witness to shouting in the offices of the
night, the members of the Council sat and conferred.They made lists and persuaded people to give more than
they were able.I
know that many of the Polish population, when the severity of
the situation became known to them, brought donations to the
Council in complete secrecy and at the peril of their lives, in
order to help the Jews in their time of trouble.The head of, and first to perform, this kindness was the
served as an example to his congregants, and many of them
learned from him, saw what he did, and did the same.In that way, the Jews somewhat overcame the new decree.
condition of supply, as I mentioned, was very difficult.Those who managed to obtain something from the Ukrainian
villagers, after they had endangered themselves, were exposed to
new dangers, because from time to time, the Germans conducted
searches in the houses.We had to hide the food in special, secret places.
background of relations with the non-Jewish population in order
to obtain food, there also were incidents of murder.Once, a Jew from the village Dibulya, Asher-Aharon's son,
tried to exchange a bit of yeast for bread and was caught.They tortured him severely, until his soul left him.The members of the Jewish council applied to the regime
and asked them to give them his body so that he could be
properly buried, but all their efforts did not help and his body
was not handed over.
forbidden to go out of town.Guard duty was in the hands of the Jewish police.From time to time, the council received a special permit
to go to Sarny for its own matters.Most of the time, the one who travelled there was Yaakov
situation continued that way until the month of Av [roughly,
during this month, when I came back from work in the sawmill, I
was told that a parade of the Ukrainian militia had taken place
in the town, in which they had sung songs of abuse toward the
Threshold of Destruction
It was a
Sunday.That day, I
did not go out to work.I came to the offices of the Council.Depression was visible on the faces of everyone.I was told that one Ukrainian had said that pits that
were being dug on the way to the village Zholkin.Yaakov Eisenberg went to the Gestapo to clarify the
matter, but he was told that these were false rumors and no more
day, when we went to work, we found out that the guard over us
had been strengthened.Ukrainian police waited for us next to the spirit factory
and brought us to work.When we returned in the evening, a group of police again
accompanied us to the town.That same day, one of us overheard a conversation between
the Ukrainian police.One policeman told another that they were intending to
eliminate all of the "idlers" among the Jews who were not fit to
work and that only the professionals would remain alive.In the town, people walked like shadows.It was said that Vladimirets was surrounded by police
day, Leizer Zhuk (the butcher) was killed.Yaakov Eisenberg, who was supposed to travel on behalf of
the Council to Sarny, was not allowed to leave the town.
Wednesday, when I returned from work, my mother told me that
Eliezer had sent a message with someone that he would not return
from work.I went
to Appelboim, where I found out that the members of the Council
were sunk into a mood of complete depression.They counted the money that was in the Council's fund and
divided it between everyone who was present.The previous day, Eliezer told me that he and several
friends had turned to the members of the Council and suggested
burning down the entire town in order to create a situation of
confusion, something which would awaken people to flee from the
members of the Council did not see their suggestion as
the matter was rejected, Eliezer and his friends decided to flee
from the town, and that is what they did.They left, a group of 13 young men and one girl Rachel
from Tykowicz, to flee and hide in the forests.
evening, I also went to the Council's office.I told Ima that perhaps I would not return home, and that
I would sleep at Appelboim's.Many people were in the office, and all of them were very
members of the Council tried to calm the atmosphere and prove to
the arrivals that it was forbidden to be discouraged.I went into Chana's room, and together we went to the
Found there that evening were the Tscherniak, Appelboim and Zhuk
families; Perel Weisblatt and her husband; Michael Freidman, and
there gloomy with despair and with lowered heads.Now, it already was certain that they were going to
eliminate the Jews who were not productive.At a late hour of the night, a few Ukrainians came and
called Yaakov Eisenberg to come outside.He took his coat and his cane and went out to them.An hour later, he came back and told us that they had
proposed a safe place for him to hide until the rage would pass.He went out to them again to give them his answer.A short time later, he entered, confused and upset.He threw down the coat and cane, and said:
forbidden for me to find shelter.The fate of everyone will be mine.I will not separate myself from the Jews of Vladimirets."
morning, I parted from all the members of the family.Chana had tried to convince me that I should do
everything in order to be able to flee and not come back to the
town.The hour was
early, and I saw a gathering next to the drugstore neighboring
became clear that the pharmacist, his wife and their daughter
had committed suicide this family was not one of the older
residents of Vladimirets, but they were refugees who settled in
our town during the Russian conquest.
have time to stay there and look.I hurried into the house, before I went to work.I parted from Ima.I told her that I was going to try to escape during
remember that while I was working, I overheard a conversation
between two Germans who were guarding us and stood not far from
me.One asked why
had they strengthened the guard so much?And the second German answered him with a wink of the eye
and by putting his hand into the shape of a pistol and aiming it
at his head.In
other words, they are intending to eliminate the Jews.
returned home, Itzik the builder asked one of the policemen what
he knew about what was going to happen, and he answered him that
all of the necessary Jews would remain alive, those who were not
necessary would be killed.
Ima told me
when I came home that she had found out that Eliezer had left
the town safely.
That night, several families sat together in our house.My relative Yisrael and his wife Batya, and their little
daughter; Leibel and his sister and her husband Yaakov Perchik,
the family of Mottel Dik Baruch Feldman and his
brother-in-law, and more.I was tired from the previous night and when I lay down
to sleep in my clothes, I fell asleep immediately.At three o'clock in the morning, my mother woke me and
said that there was a possibility to leave the town.She coaxed me with words, saying that she was certain
that I would be saved by the merits of my father, of blessed
memory.She gave me
several ears of corn food for the road showered me with
kisses, and I went out.
We were a
group of 10 people.
Yisrael and his wife Batya and their daughter Chaya; Leibel Dik;
Hinda and her husband Yaakov and their daughter Shulamit; Baruch
Feldman, his brother-in-law Yaakov, and me.Leibel was the organizer of our exit.He was the one who gave the money to one of the police
and arranged with him to bring us outside the town, there to
leave us alone.But
the policeman was not satisfied with the money he took.He also wanted to take our souls.He prepared several policemen who waited for us in a
certain place and intended to kill us.We arrived behind the hospital.Leibel went first, and I went last, next to the
Suddenly, a policeman came out of hiding and attacked Leibel.Leibel began to struggle with him.I managed to see how the policeman stabbed him with a
bayonet, and I heard Leibel cry out.Baruch began to shout at me:"Yaakov, run away immediately!"I suddenly gave the policeman, who was walking next to
me, a strong punch in the face.He became confused, and I began to run.Baruch Feldman ran in front of me, and I followed.We ran to the right.We heard shots behind us.Suddenly, I felt something scratch my boot."Maybe I am injured," I said to Baruch, and he answered,
while running, "Don't talk about it.Run, as long as you have strength, and don't talk!"
And so we
reached the forest, and entered into a swampy area.
we found out that all of those who had been walking with us had
been killed, and that Batya had succeeded in escaping and
reaching the forest.She wandered in the forest for two weeks, looking for me,
until she was seized and murdered by the Germans.
happened in Vladimirets, we did not know that day.From a distance, indeed there were shots, but we didn't
know their meaning.
We came to the general conclusion that we should not return to
suggested that we stay together all the time and that we should
decided to go to the village Zelenitsa, where my grandfather had
lived in the past.
And that is what we did.We walked and walked all night.We were hungry, and we picked ears of corn from the
fields through which we passed.With this we revived ourselves.We arrived in one of the settlements, where a farmer
received us nicely.
He did not bring us into his house, but he gave us permission to
go up into the attic, where he kept the straw.We stayed in this attic for two days.We knew nothing about Vladimirets; even the farmer didn't
brought food to us in the attic, until he informed us that we
had to leave the place.We went out toward morning, and walked in the direction
recognized the village from those days when I came there to
visit my grandfather.I approached the first house.It was the house of Josip, a Polish villager, who had
once been the soltis [head] of the village.I knocked lightly on the window, and he awoke.He approached the window and looked out.He immediately recognized me, and brought me into the
cowshed, between piles of wood and straw.In general, it was possible to trust him, but he was very
frightened and fearfully spoke about how he was putting himself
into great danger.
Here we found out about the fate of the community of Vladimirets
and about its destruction.I was shocked and depressed by all I heard.Toward evening, the farmer brought spelt porridge in a
pot and a wooden spoon.He didn't say a word; he just put down the pot and left.In all of his deeds, we sensed his great fear, and the
great burden we were causing him.
third day of our stay, Josip came to me and said:
keeping you because of a good will to help you, but since you
came my life is no life "
to leave the place.
He told me that he had found Eliezer in the forest and had
arranged with him a place where he would wait for me.He gave me a loaf of bread, food for the road, and
explained to me where the meeting place would be.It was at a distance of 3 kilometers from the village.At 9 or 10 o'clock that night, I came down from my hiding
place and went out on the road, with a heavy suspicion that a
trap was being set for me.Thus, I walked carefully.And when I came to the designated place, from a distance
I saw two shadows.
I carefully approached, and I found that indeed, Eliezer was
person was Asher Guz, Menachem Guz's grandson.Eliezer's clothing was very thin, and the nights were
already very cold.
He told me everything that had happened to him during the days
since he had left.
I told him that I had decided not to go again to the farmers'
houses, after the days of fear I had experienced at Josip's.
day, Eliezer decided that he and Asher would both go to
Vladimirets, they would secretly enter the town and go home to
find some clothes that certainly remained.At first, I accepted the plan, but after they left, I saw
it as a terrible mistake and a dangerous attempt.I suffered days of confusion and pain.I could not rest, and I told myself that if anything
would happen to them, I would kill myself, because it was my
fault; I had let them go.
returned safely, and indeed they succeeded in bringing a few
clothes with them.
We wandered around in the forest until Rosh HaShana, and then we
decided to go to find Rachel, to Tykowicz.Eliezer knew the village where Rachel was supposed to be.We knocked at the door of one of the houses, but success
was not with us.A
bearded goy came out to meet us, a kachap type.He looked at us and announced:
immediately turned around, picked up an axe, waved it in the
air, and said,
don't get out of here immediately, I will kill you on the spot."
We fled.After many searches, we succeeded in finding the farmer's
house where Rachel was hiding.Here we also found Rachel's brother, Yaakov Ber.We were together all that day.The farmer told us that a few Jews were wandering in the
area, and that he had made a plan for us he would lead us deep
into the forest, to the location of the swamps, and because the
Germans almost never came here, we could build some kind of a
building there, where we would hide.And that is how it was.The winter was relatively easy.We stayed there for three months.At night we would go out to find food, and we did that
until the Partisans began to control the area and our situation
Red Army arrived, we were drafted as soldiers and we
participated in their battles, in one of which Eliezer was
Chaim also fell as a fighter in the ranks of the Red Army.