** Webmaster Note: The following
translation was generously provided by Diane
Moore. We have presented it here exactly as it was
translated for us.
Mudrik moved in and out of Vladimirets several times, and has a
perspective that can only come when you no longer live in your
hometown. He also visited the town twice after the war, in 1948
generation was the last of the Jewish community of
Vladimirets. All of us heard, more or less, about the
Jewish life of former days. But we can only remember
our childhood years, a childhood which already stood, even
in the years of peace, in the shadow of threatening
disaster. When the war broke out and the days of
horror began, we were still children, twelve or thirteen
years old, uprooted from the land of our upbringing and
given into the hands of cruelty and terror.
were the peaceful years that we knew, and those few became
in our minds like a beautiful beach, to which the heart
seeks to cling.
don't remember if there were class differences in our town
-- great wealth versus downtrodden poverty. But one
must acknowledge that the Jewish population was divided into
levels, and a silent struggle certainly took place between
them. Especially in the field of thought: "Why does
the luck go to this one and that one and not to me?"
Between the children, on the other hand, there was no
difference. It seems to me that they were all equal.
Even poor parents struggled to give their children a proper
upbringing. In our time, raising children was very
difficult. Our parents were obligated to give us
various kinds of education. Our learning was
fragmented into different studies: Hebrew and Jewish
studies, Yiddish and Polish, and all with different
When a boy was five, he would be placed in cheder.
There he studied until he was ten or eleven. The
cheder was, actually, the first source from which we
absorbed our knowledge. I will try in a few lines to
sketch the cheder where I learned -- the cheder of Reb
Dov-Ber Blizniuk. I was four and a half when I started
cheder, where I spent eight hours a day. There I
learned to read, learned chumash and Rashi, and the
blessings and prayers. And although the teaching
methods were old-fashioned, the cheder gave me a great deal.
I gained knowledge of the holy Torah, and a deep love for
Eretz Israel, the land of our fathers, and the holy city of
There shines in my memory a picture from my cheder days.
I wasn't more than six years old then. We were learning in
chumash about the Tabernacle. One day the Rebbe went
out to market to buy something, and he told us children,
left behind in the schoolroom, to study by ourselves the
siddur "Vayakhel." As soon as the Rebbe was out of the
room, one of the boys stood up and said, "You
know what? Come on, we'll build a Tabernacle!"
proposal enchanted us, and with one impulse we were out in
the yard and starting to work. The picture is before
my eyes, clear as though it had happened this morning.
remember that Manassah Weidelguz ran quickly home and
brought sheets, and we drove poles into the ground, on which
we stretched the sheets, which were in our eyes like the
curtains of the Tabernacle, just as it is described in the
book of Exodus.
oldest children in cheder took on themselves the title of
Kohanim; the middle group were Levites, and the smallest
were called Israel. One among us who had "golden
hands" acquired the name of Bezalel ben Khur, and a second
boy was "holiav ben Ahisamach" -- and so we created the
must tell the truth -- that for this game we were well
punished, when our Rebbe came back to the cheder. But
the fact remains a fact: we couldn't be satisfied with only
what stands written in Chumash, and our curiosity was great
to see the reality. Thus we tried to make it real.
And if the system was primitive, the lessons still took root
in our imaginations. And perhaps just because the
conditions of our learning were simple, our imaginations
were awakened to fill the gap.
When I was seven, I went to the Polish school, which in our
shtetl was the official state institution. Jewish
children, Polish, and Ukrainian learned together there.
The system was modern; the teachers were Polish and the
language Polish. Everything there was organized; order
and discipline reigned. The first year it was hard for
us to adjust to the new conditions, but we stayed in the
school. In the first grade we were a group of Jewish
boys, bound together like brothers. The friendship and
devotion among us were extraordinary; that was a unity that
grew out of our new circumstances. The Polish and
Ukrainian children, through their hatred, forced us to
unite. In fact, none of us wanted to be set apart from
the other pupils. We wanted to be ordinary pupils, but
the gentile children prevented that. It must be
stressed, however, that the hostile attitude toward us did
not come only from the other children. The hatred
toward us sprang from some principle and tendency; all were
against us; all strove to prove that we were Jews, and not
let us hide it.
Every morning, for instance, coming into school, we were
compelled to stand during their morning prayers. We
would stand on one side and had to listen as they prayed,
and alas, they didn't restrain themselves in the time of
their prayers, and murmured things in soft voices.
Often they would trip us up so that we couldnít stand
quietly and would disturb their prayers.
recall how we once got into trouble through the shaygetz
Mukha. During their prayer time, he threw a piece of
paper at Manasseh Vidlguz. "What
are you doing?" Manasseh asked him without thinking.
That's all it took. He was summoned immediately to the
school administrator and was severely beaten. He
parents were also called in to receive the appropriate
to the fourth grade, we were taught by Miss Malinovska, of
Ukrainian descent. Her manner toward us was not bad.
But later it became clear that she was among those who had a
hand in the slaughter of Jews. Also the music teacher,
Gritzki, had taken part in the bloody deeds against Jews.
Who could pose as our givers of knowledge and be also the
shedders of our blood?
fourth grade we had a larger number of teachers, and they
were all anti-semites. This forced us Jewish children
into even stronger unity, in resistance. But how could
our resistance be expressed? First, we had to be the
best students, and so we were. We put all our energy
and strength into our studies. We used to help each
other, so there would never be a laggard among us. So
every day we had to be organized against the impudent
gentile boys. Not a week went by without a war between
us. When we left school and got as far as the Spins'
wall, and the goyim would attack and start hitting us, we
were not afraid of them and always showed boldness.
Not once did we come away from such a battle without wounds
and blood, but the slaughter among the goyim was greater.
Conflicts between us sometimes blazed so hot that the police
had to get involved to separate the fighters.
of our comrades distinguished themselves in this field:
Leybl Spin, whom we called Leybl the Devil, and Benjamin
Sharfstein. Both survived -- Leybl is in the Soviet
Union and Benjamin was in Israel and emigrated to America.
the Polish school there was one Jewish teacher for religious
studies, R. Pinchas of blessed memory. His lessons
were mainly in Torah, and he implanted in us a deep love for
studied in the Polish school until one o'clock. But we
were Jewish children; with only Polish we couldn't be
satisfied. We all had to learn Hebrew from private
teachers, to complete our knowledge. From three to six
in the afternoon we studied further. My teacher was
Lipman Volok, a good Jew and a good teacher. With him
we learned Tanach, Hebrew grammar, and Hebrew literature.
During the three hours we talked among ourselves only in
Hebrew. Lipman was a warm and devoted Zionist; he
would enliven his explanations with various particulars from
the Jewish life in Eretz Israel, and thus he gave us a
strong love for the Jewish revival there. When the
second world war broke out, Lipman went with his family to
Romania, and what fate he met there, I do not know.
Vladimirets was permeated with love for Yiddishkeit and
with belief in the Jewish future. And we children
absorbed it into our souls. At six in the evening our
lessons didn't end -- from seven to nine we learned more,
either in cheder or in Talmud-Torah, which was held in the
synagogue of the Stepaner Chasidim. When I look back
on the order of our studies and the hours we put in, I
wonder where we got so much energy and stamina and how we
managed to do it all. So many hours were given to our
studies, but still we found free time for various games --
in winter, skates and sleds; in summer, football and
only was there a Jewish atmosphere, and a Zionist feeling,
but also various organizations: Hashomer Hatzair (Young
Guardians) , Hachalutz (Pioneers), Betar (Jabotinsky's Brit
Trumpeldor). But the community in general was not so
strongly unified as were we, the Jewish children in the
Polish folk-school. Most of us were organized in
Betar, but many were also in Hashomer Hatzair and Hachalutz.
Chanuka we would gather together, prepare a feast, and talk
about the Hasmoneans. At Purim the talk was of the
situation of the Jews in the Diaspora, their oppression and
helplessness. We would arrange various performances
and our admission money would go to the funds for Israel.
But our best holiday was Lag b'Omer. Everyone would be
out in the street with blue and white banners, and we went
singing through the town and to the mountain groves.
There we built big bonfires and spent the rest of the day in
singing and dancing, forgetting our exile and our troubles.
whole time we were schoolboys, things weren't bad with us;
our troubles began when we finished school. "What
happens now?" each of us asked. Not all of us could
continue our studies at secondary school. There was no
gymnasium or trade school in Vladimirets. Most of the
children stayed with their parents. Some went into
business to earn a living; some went away to learn a trade
from a nearby craftsman; and some travelled to other towns
to study in yeshiva. I and my friends Yankel Milstein,
Manassah Videlguz, and Isaac Ruzenblat went in 1938 to
Stolin to study in the yeshiva there. My friends left
a few days before me. Each of them was accompanied by
someone of his family.
that time my uncle Berl decided to make Aliyah to Eretz
Israel. Thus it was agreed between us that I would
travel with my uncle as far as Hurin, and from there I would
make my way to Stolin. I recall, as if it were today,
it was after Sukkot. The autumn rains had already
started. In such weather we both set forth to the
farther world, my uncle to Eretz Israel and I to Stolin.
That was my first train ride, and the first time I had left
Vladimirets. I was not more than thirteen and a half.
train soon arrived at the Hurin station. It only
stopped there for two minutes. I didn't even have time
to say a proper farewell to my uncle. We kissed each
other hurriedly, with tears in our eyes. Quick, quick,
the train could take off in the blink of an eye. I
made a fast jump through the door, and I was outside.
The train flew away and disappeared in the night, and I was
alone at the Hurin station, on a dark, rainy night. For a
few minutes I stood there, not knowing which way to turn.
Suddenly a weak light flickered from a distance. It
came from the little house that served as a station. I
went in and saw that there were only gentiles there. I
put down my bundle on the wooden bench, and sat down to wait
for dawn. Very early in the morning a Jewish
hearse-driver came along, and I travelled to Stolin with
him. There I met my friends, who had already rented a
room, and we lived together.
were soon acclimatized to Stolin. At first it was hard
for us to go around to eat in different houses, but
gradually we got used to that too. The yeshiva where
we studied was modern and progressive. We weren't made
to grow sidecurls, for instance, or wear special clothes.
We studied from seven in the morning till one, and from five
till nine in the evening. In our free hours we
occupied ourselves with self-education, such as mathematics
and other studies. After a few months I had already
begun earning, by giving lessons to children who were pupils
in the Polish folk-school. Studying in the yeshiva
deepened our knowledge of Yiddishkeit, and also of Hebrew.
At Pesach I went home to Vladimirets and was honored with a
beautiful welcome. The reunion of my friends in the
shtetl was full of interest. Some of them envied us,
not for our yeshiva education, but for our travels in the
wider world. After the holiday we went back to Stolin.
studied all summer until the month of Elul, with the
intention of pursuing our studies through the coming winter,
but our intentions did not become reality.
the first of September, 1939, the Second World War broke
out. Already on August 28 it was known in Vladimirets
that the Polish militia was mobilizing. Fear seized
everyone. A few days later, refugees began coming into
the town. The first family was that of Rachel
Gelerstein from Brisk. They were put up by the
Eisenbergs. The Jewish town was bewildered; no one
know what to do. My friends and I met almost every day
to talk about the war. Soldiers were already
appearing, back from the front. We already knew that
the days of Poland's independence were numbered.
September 10, a long caravan of automobiles came through
Vladimirets, and there were knowledgeable people who said
that in the caravan were members of the Polish government,
who were retreating in the direction of Romania. The
next day we saw the Polish police and other officials
preparing to leave Vladimirets. And the same day a
rumor went out, that the Russian army was coming in.
In Vladimirets, Communists were not lacking - both Ukrainian
and Jewish. Now many who had been arrested and placed
in various prisons were freed.
Polish police had just left town, when the local Communists
organized a Folks-Police, with red armbands, and they
prepared to welcome the Red Army when it came to liberate
us. Next to the "Gralnia"
was established the "Triumphal
Gate" adorned with red flags, with announcements and
slogans. There all the Soviet sympathizers awaited their
arrival. Long hours they waited in vain -- no sign of
the Red Army. So passed the days, and the community was
already becoming impatient, but the communists always
encouraged the others:
soon they will arrive!"
Many of the inhabitants would come out of the houses to
receive them in vain. On the third day, a special
envoy arrived and announced:
Red Army is coming!"
With their red flags, people stood expectantly, eyes to the
east. And now the waiting was not in vain. Now
was heard the sound of horses' hoofs. And soon
appeared in the distance a group of riders -- real riders --
in the distance the picture was not clear, but soon they
came nearer and we could really see them.
alas, again chance had played a joke on us, and instead of a
group of Red soldiers there was revealed to us a detachment
of Polish cavalry -- a remnant of their defeated army, gone
astray, which had come here by mistake. At first they
looked very miserable, but when they recovered a bit and saw
the preparations the Jews had made to welcome the Soviets,
they were quite themselves again and began striking out to
right and left. Everyone began running away. The
tumult and shouting were tremendous, but there were no
casualties, except the triumphal tower which the cavalrymen
smashed, and the red banners which they tore up. By
evening the local communists had rebuilt the tower, hung
more red banners, and begun again to await the arrival of
the Red Army. There was great fear of an interregnum,
with no authority in place.
Finally the Soviets did arrive, on Yom Kippur. Tables
were set up in the streets, and many came out to see the
newcomers. The fear had passed, and joy was great.
The scoffers in town said that it was more like Simchat
Torah than Yom Kippur.
in Vladimirets had never seen a military presence like this.
The tanks they brought were so big. And for us boys of
fourteen and fifteen, it was a great novelty. But
along with it came disappointment. We hadn't imagined
that the army would look like this. We remembered the
Polish soldiers who were splendidly got up, a pleasure to
behold. And here we saw an army whose costume was very
simple, with peaked caps that looked crude and clumsy.
We couldn't imagine that this was an army. Most of
them wore old cloaks. Mixed feelings struggled within
us, disappointment and gratification at the same time.
The soldiers let us ride in the tanks and on their horses.
What more do children need? But the delight was only
temporary. The soldiers went away and left behind only
a small detachment which was quartered in the local park.
We got used to the Soviet soldiers and began to feel at ease
with them, and to find faults even in some of their
officers. I recall that one of them had a habit of saying
with every word "vat-immenu",
and the expression stuck to him as a nickname.
Very soon the Soviets, with the help of the local
communists, began to look for capitalists in Vladimirets,
and many Jews were victims. At first the shops were
still open, but the "comrades"
started to buy up everything they liked and to pay with
their banknotes, so that nobody knew what they were getting.
Before long the shops were shut down, and the town took on a
strange look. Everyone lived on whatever resources he
had put aside. Those who had nothing saved suffered
situation worsened from day to day, until the Soviets
decided to build an airfield in the town. The airfield
was set up on the fields of the local farmers. The
field was planted with potatoes. Soon an order was
given to the population to dig up the potatoes and clear the
ground. Payment for the work was a fifth of the
potatoes that each person showed he had dug up. Winter
was approaching, and many families were out in the fields
digging potatoes. I too, and my mother, went out to
the work, and the pay we got fed us for a long time.
Others worked at threshing in the farmers' barns.
Among them was my friend Reuben Sussel of blessed memory.
I recall that his hands were frostbitten from working in the
cold winter damp, and hurt him very much.
the winter of 1940 a school was opened in Vladimirets in the
name of the Soviet government, and we were back on school
benches. Alongside the Ukrainian school, a Jewish
school was established. The director was Yitzkhak
Pinchuk. All my friends went there, to the first
official Jewish school, but I didn't go there long. My
mother went to Sarny to work as cook in a children's home,
and I left Vladimirets with her. In Sarny I finished
Ukrainian secondary school in 1941.
Thus I left Vladimirets, not knowing how long and terrible
the separation would be. On June 22, 1941, the German
murderers invaded Russia, and the next day Sarny was already
being bombarded. The confusion was tremendous; people
didnít know where to run. On the 27th I
left with my mother and brother, and set out to walk to the
railroad station, to go to Kiev. We thought then that
the war would not last long, not more than two or three
months. Of course I will not attempt to describe all
my troubles of the war years. In September I found
myself in Leningrad, and there I was drafted into the
Russian Army. I fought against the Nazi murderers on
almost every front.
January, 1944, my brigade was in a bitter struggle to free
the towns of Mozir and Klinkovits; from there we went on
attack in the direction of Sarny. In early February we
found ourselves in the village of Tsipchevitz, near Sarny;
from there we crossed to Lurets, four kilometers away.
Now we got an order to proceed with an assault and liberate
the town. Meanwhile we were furloughed for three days,
and waited for reinforcements. Those were winter
nights; rain and snow fell without stopping, and turned into
frost on the ground. The short furs we wore froze on
us, and became hard as iron.
When I learned that we were getting three days' furlough, I
asked my commander for permission to go to Vladimirets, my
home town. Permission was granted, and all alone, on
horseback, I started out in the darkness to visit my
birthplace, where all the beautiful memories of my childhood
were bound up. I had been told that in Vladimirets,
power was in the hands of the Partisans.
Arriving at Antonovka, I met a Jew at the station, a
Partisan from Zalutsk, and asked him what he had heard about
Vladimirets. I got no clear information from him; he
only advised me not to go there at night. I went into
a house where there were Partisans and a gentile from
Horodets. There I learned the dreadful truth -- the
truth about the bitter end of the holy community of
Vladimirets. They told me that there was no reason for
me to go there, since as far as they knew, there was
no government in Vladimirets. But I couldn't keep from
going there. At six o'clock in the morning I set out
together with the gentile from Horodets, to visit my beloved
Vladimirets. On the way, the gentile stopped for
something, but I was very impatient, every nerve strained
toward the fearful encounter. I didn't wait for my
companion; I went on alone. At eight in the morning I
arrived in Vladimirets.
never forget that hour. I almost couldn't recognize my town.
It was empty and vacant. I had come expecting to see the
house where we lived, Pessia-Rivka's house. I couldn't
find the place. I started to look for where Chaya
Eisenberg lived. The doors and windows were boarded up.
I walked around for an hour and found no living soul, only an
abandoned dog dragging itself around. From time to time a
goyish face looked out a window.
tears in my eyes and with stumbling feet I walked about until
one of the goyish children came along, and I asked him if he
could tell me where Zakharke Suslev might be.
day, I don't understand why he was the one I asked about.
The little sheygetz led me to his house. I waited a long
time, until he opened the door. He didn't recognize me,
but I knew him at once. I started to explain to him who I
was; I reminded him that I went to school with his daughter
Tanya. Hearing that, Tanya herself came out to me. I
was invited into the house, and offered breakfast, but I
couldn't taste the food. Instead I started asking them
about all that had happened there. He told me all about
how the slaughter in our town took place. He also said
that someone had told him that a few Jews had survived and had
been seen wandering in the surrounding forests, but he didn't
know just where. He led me to the road into the Zhulkin
woods, and said, "This
is the place." I stood for a long time by our mass grave,
the grave of my dear ones, friends, comrades and family.
and wept like a little child.
turned back and wandered through the streets of my beloved town,
which is to me now become a great cemetery. When I came
back to my military camp, the commandant asked me,
brings you back so soon?"
him all I had experienced that day.
visited Vladimirets a second time, in 1948, after I was
demobilized. My mother wanted to recover, through the
courts, some of her possessions which had been left behind in
a Sunday when we arrived; all the gentiles were dressed up in
Jewish clothes. Mama could even recognize whose they had
been. At that time two Jewish families lived in
Vladimirets: Chaya-Leah, the daughter of Shmuel Frumes,
and Kamiser from Dovolia. We went to Chaya-Leah's house and
together we went to the old cemetery, and then to the mass grave
near Zhulkin. At that time there were still clear signs
that this was a field-grave.
third time I was in Vladimirets was in 1956, before I left for
Poland. That time we came to bid farewell to our
unforgotten martyrs. To our astonishment and horror, we
found almost no memory of the field-grave; the old cemetery was
in ruins; we were told that a sawmill was to be built there.
On a part of the field where our martyrs fell, there was a
highway; the other part had been plowed under by the collective
Silent and heartbroken we stood and looked with tearful eyes at
the place where our dearest ones met their frightful death.