by Ze'ev Kaplan
Translated by Meir Bulman
The Germans entered Voronova on that day. I was out of town. The Russians sent me and Motl Daikhovski (the Cobbler) to guard the railroad tracks so Ukrainians and others would not sabotage them. In actuality they sent father, but I went in his place; I wanted father to rest.
Mother worked at the beer shop. It was a time of largescale enlistment, the guys busied themselves with drinking and she had much work on her hands.
When the two of us approached the tracks we witnessed something odd. From an unknown direction, a few motorcycle riders appeared and one showed the other the riding direction while gesturing with his thumb, Onward! Onward! And the area peasants stood in groups and cheered.
I recognized each of the gentiles. They were the farmers from Kltkin, Alsorishok and other villages. They greeted us gleefully and happily, Now your end will come, damned Jews. The Germans will finish you along with the damned Russians we will no longer see the two of you around, thank God.
The Germans, who at the time could not differentiate between a Jew and a gentile, paid no attention to us and so we returned to town in peace and no one harmed us.
On the way back we heard gunshots from all sides. Those were planned shots, I think there were already German marines undercover and they responded in signals.
As we neared the town, Stshisko the Pole greeted us by yelling, Your end is now, Communist Jews!
The word of the German arrival spread quickly. Those enlisted [Tr. Note: local Jews in the Russian military] dispersed, and each went home. My parents returned from the shop at dusk. We entered NettaAlia's home and sat there all night, waiting for the morning.
In the morning large German military forces came in from different directions. We saw Russian prisoners led with their hands raised. Jews stayed home. Gentiles appeared and began looting stores. We heard them yell, Your time has come, bloodsucking Jews, communist Jews, now you'll burn along with the communists who favored you.
Meanwhile, the German commanders were replaced, and the harassment of Jews began. We heard the Kletzk Rabbi was arrested on the claim he threw a grenade on the military. Jews immediately gathered a ransom and had him released.
Several weeks passed and we became acquainted with the methods of the Nazi regime. In the beginning of August, a gentile woman, Tklle Bworonov, wanted to summon the Gestapo in order to tell them who had supposedly collaborated with the Russians. The Germans allowed the gentiles to gather all the Jews in the market place. They went into each home and commanded us to gather in the square. Selebrita, who worked at Goldstein's tar workshop, led a group of gentiles, our neighbors, and they struck us with death blows, with batons; our lives were made expendable to them.
At the marketplace, all the Jews were instructed to stand in a line, from which they took out Yitzhak Volpianski, Yitzhak Kaplan, Zerakh Shelovski and his siblings, Esther and David, and then sat them on the ground and told them to wait. The rest of those gathered were dispersed and sent home with blows and bloodcurdling beratement.
The fate of these five youths remains unknown to us.
That week they also enacted, by decree, the wearing of patches on both the back and chest to highlight Jewish identity. Jews were also forbidden from walking on the sidewalks.
In December of 1941, all Jews were taken for forced labor, cleaning the occupiers' bikes, homes, and more. We were a group of youths who cleared the snow from the roads. For a long while I worked with Yekutiel ‘Kushke’ Boyarski, Barukh Garbatski, Zerakh Pupko, Yakov Dvilinski, Arke Dvilinski, Gutko Eishishki, and some young women, Rokhl Dukshtulski and others. We worked on BenakaniVilne streets. Then on the Saturday before Hannukah the Vilne folks were murdered.
We woke up in the morning and saw the town swarming with people armed with weapons. In the distance, gentiles prepared large pits and we did not know. Many families gathered in our home. There was Moshe Gershonovits, his wife and two children, Sarah Gershonovits, his cousin, with her daughter Khasye and her sons Avraham and Zalmen. Nevankhe Grodzenchik, and Leyzerke Katzenlboggen, and my father Binyamin, my mother Riva, my sister Zelda, and my cousins Avraham and Ze'ev Kaplan.
We gathered because Gtzvitz, the kind gentile from Dutchshiyok, wanted to rescue us from the enclosed town and transfer us to his village. He returned after working out with the guards to allow us to leave. We followed him, reaching the horse market without incident. All was in order. Near the fence stood Bentovits, a Polish neighbor on guard duty. Gtzvitz went to work it out with another guard. Suddenly gunshots rained down on us. I heard him nervously saying, Oh Jezus kochany jestem Poliak (Oh dear Jesus I am Polish).
We spread out in all directions. At first I ran with my parents, but I lost them on the way. Running nervously, I reached Berlovits the pharmacist's terrain in the Zamuk Forest (Tr. Note: Polish word for citadel; see town map). A policeman stood there. I knew him he was the town shepherd's son. He began shooting at us but stopped. We gave him money and he allowed us to continue. We reached the rail tracks, where an armed guard came out and threatened to turn us over to the Germans. I recognized his gurgling voice. He used to work near us as a guard. I called his name and he accommodated us. We paid him a hundred dollars and he allowed us to continue.
We reached Dutchshiyok and did not know who was killed and who remained alive. We were very hungry. I entered a peasant's home, took some bread, and we made our way to the woods.
Zalmenke Gershonovits woke up Moshe In the morning and they went to ask the peasants what was going on, and to get some food. The gentiles said that kind Gtzvitz was killed along with my dear parents at the horse market. Sarah Gershonovitz, her daughter Khasya, Nevankke Grodzenchik, Leyzer Katzenlboggen and his girlfriend Khanke Dlugin were killed later.
Yitzhak Dvilinski buried them at the marketplace square when the gunfire stopped.
We heard from the villagers that my sister Zelda, and Shoshke Gershonovits were saved, but we could not know where to search for them.
We spent that day in the woods with the intention of leaving at dark and continuing on to a safer place. In the evening, our gurgling guard showed up with several gentiles armed with guns. They surrounded us and opened fire. We managed to escape and reached a small village where we were sheltered by a gentile named Khadrovich for two days, Sunday and Monday. That Monday, the massacre of the Voronova Jews took place.
Most of the Jews were massacred. The Judenrat had made a list of survivors to be transferred to the Lida ghetto.
A kind gentile brought this news to us from town.
What could we have done? We were trapped and so decided to return home.
We returned to Voronova on Tuesday. I found my sister and Shoshke Gershonovits, as well as part of our family. There were also Leybke Kaplan, his sister Libka and her husband, Avraham Kaplan, and my cousin Ze'ev. The houses were boarded up. The survivors were concentrated in the New Plan.
At the start of 1943, the remnants of our town reached the Lida ghetto. The Germans took Kushke and I to work construction. We were young men who still looked human and ready for work.
Rumors of partisans in the nearby woods then began to spread. We eventually learned that Meir Shmerkovitsh (Shamir), his family, and Altshik Blyakher had joined the partisans. Yekutiel escaped to the woods immediately, and I remained without guidance. One day I heard that Meir Shamir and Leybke Katsev from Lida were in the ghetto and about to rescue people by taking them to the woods. I made up my mind to join them and sneak out.
I was a child and so I knew they would not want to take me, but from the rumors I knew they were leaving that night. I walked ahead of them then lay by the designated exit point and waited. They did not leave that night. It was postponed to the next night. I returned to work, labored all day, and at dusk I again left to wait for them near the gate. I heard them say: Guys, everyone is drunk, get ready, we are leaving soon. They passed near me. I heard their footsteps. Meir was the last one to pass. When I saw him I rose and joined those walking. When Meir noticed me he did not say a word and instead hugged me happily. My exit was granted. Eighty people were rescued that night, among them Lida residents, a family from Seltshnik, and Altshik Blyakher from Divenishok.
In the woods with Bielski
We spent a day in the woods, and at night we left to join Bielski's battalion. As luck would have it, the Germans were conducting a raid on the partisans and we were in the line of fire. We were miraculously saved because the Germans liked staying in trenches to fire, so as not to fall prey to ambushes set up by the partisans. Our guides knew this and so we reached the target unharmed. When we arrived we were directed towards the Naliboki Plains where we set up for prolonged stay.
Each person dug a shed in the ground to live in. I dug near Meir Shamir. I stuck to them like the parents that I missed, and in my vast loneliness they served as a good replacement.
When the big siege began where the Germans wanted to permanently rid themselves of Bielski's wasp nest, we split into different groups that traveled in different directions. I did not belong to any group and was in a dire state, but Meir Shamir who commanded fifty people took me with him and I was rescued. I worked as a shepherd, served in the squad kitchen, and grew up near the Shmerkovitsh and Konopka families. Once I was ill with typhus and people were careful not to come near me. I was very miserable in my loneliness and the quarantine that I suffered due to my illness, but Karmela Shamir and Beyleh Olkenitski cared for me at risk to themselves, and they saved me. The Konopka girls that lived in our neighborhood also took a risk and cared for me, washed my loused clothes, and paid no mind to the danger.
When I think of those days of holocaust and hopelessness, and think of the horrors I endured, and of my life that was saved thanks to a humanity that was not damaged. I can only conclude and say that I owe my life to Meir Shamir. May my words serve him as a medal of honor during days of crisis.
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