by Y. Konikhovski
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
Kissing Russian Tanks
In the last years before Nazi occupation, Voronova Jewish [community] suffered from Polish regime, not only religious persecution but also simple hooligan acts and economic restrictions. With the call of svoy do svege, [new] Polish stores were built, and Poles were forbidden to buy at Jewish shops. The youth was left without a future and looked around for opportunities which some found in Zionism and some in Communism.
In 1939, when the Russians came to Voronova, the Jews welcomed them as longawaited relief, the youth kissed the dusty tanks and danced for joy.
I was instantly appointed as leader of a temporary order. I appointed a commandant and organized a mixed JewishLithuanianBelarussian police. Life changed and took on new organized forms.
Later I was elected representative to the People's Assembly in Bialystok, which was supposed to decide the destiny of occupied Western Belarus. Not surprisingly, after several days of discussions it was decided to unite Western with Eastern Belarus, which belonged to Soviet Russia.
On the next morning, immediately after the vote, the party leaders of Soviet Belarus took over the assembly.
Most of the youth of Voronova were nominated to different managerial posts. Estherke Olkenitski and Yakov Trotski worked at the post office. Tsvi Sokolik, Berke Peysah's, Olkenitski and Konopkin worked at the shop cooperative, Konopkin in the savings bank, Tsvi Krashanski at the police, Yitzakh Olkenitski in the restaurant, and others in different positions. I became the director of District Social Security (RSB). I had to take care of all the old Polish pensions and determine the new work and warpensions. I wanted to avoid such a post, but when I said that I am too weak for such a responsibility, the reply was ne znayesh nautchim, ne xotchesh zastavim (if you don't know how we'll teach you, if you don't want we'll force you). So I started a job which I didn't know anything about.
After I hired an inspector and an accountant, I placed an advertisement for several days in the newspaper defining who would be entitled to a pension. I took a course and took care of the needs of the elderly and the veterans. After a while I was criticized at every turn, and I realized that under the Soviet regime you don't have to do a job right, you just need to present good reports in order to protect yourself from the spears of critics. You were evaluated according to your reports. I learned the profession and my reports were so good that I received bonuses and was praised in the newspapers.
First Soviet Pride and Soon Thereafter a Spy
In 1941, with the breakout of the RussianGerman war, I was appointed as an assistant for recruiting men to the Red Army. We worked in the palace. After a few hours of work we were already told that the Germans were already in the town. We walked out through doors and the windows and ran to the nearest forest. From there we went on heading East by foot. On the way we ran into a Soviet military unit. After long negotiations we were attached to a military squad, and were equipped with grenades, and were ordered to hide near the forest road so as to throw grenades when the German tanks passed by.
We heard the noise of the tanks. The earth was trembling under their heavy pace. The commander ordered:
Ready! Wait for the fire command!
Meanwhile the tanks are approaching. They go by me the first, the second. I lie alone and don't know what to do. Then comes the order:
I threw my grenade and the shooting starts a war. We managed to stop them. They ran away and left behind several burning tanks. The commander was proud of us. He ordered an assembly, congratulated us, and said:
That's how we'll chase them to Berlin. I am proud of you. We'll teach them how to fight.
But shortly after, a big enforcement of German tanks arrived and they taught us how to fight.
We ran away as mice, everyone in a different direction. I, along with others from the Voronova Military Office, among them I think was Tsvi Krashanski, ran on the road to Lipnishok. There we met the Russian military. They thought we were spies and arrested us immediately. Our guard was severe, with guns pointed at us. We were forbidden to exchange a word. In the end they took us deep into the forest where we were kept for long hours until the order came: to prosecutor.
We imagined different scenarios of Russian processes and we felt frost in our veins. Who knew what they would do to us here? Meanwhile, someone came to take me to the prosecutor. I went under a real investigation. He asked me different questions as if were a spy. I explained to him that we are escaping from the Germans. I showed him my round stamp and he didn't believe me:
My vas znayem; (we know you); you are gifted in everything (he means Jews).
And throws this to another one there:
Otpravit! (send away)
Who knows where? Maybe Siberia, maybe Moscow, and open a trial. But I was sure that during wartime they would finish us off without process.
After making long various inquiries the prosecutor proclaims an order:
And he says to us: Immediately report to nearest enlistment office.
My Ideological Friends Bandits [and] Murderers
We decided to go to Ivia and look there for an enlistment office. But the Germans were already there. We continued to Lubtsch. There we discovered an awful scene. The town was settled with Gentiles from surrounding villages, and they were destroying and ripping off everything on their way; before them, others had packed and shipped away Jewish possessions and goods. This was awful for me because I recognized among the robbers some of my ideological comrades, with whom not long ago I had collaborated and strived for a common better future. Here is comrade Leikavitsh, a Gentile with whom I was in the same cell. And here is Abramchik, the quiet philosopher, and others. I thought it was a dark dream, but it wasn't a dream, it was a dark reality.
Jews were powerless, locked in their houses, and there was no one from whom to ask for a drop of water.
We went on further. The roads were crowded. Thousands of Jew walking, running, no one knew where. My legs refused to serve me. I had seen with my own eyes what had happened in Lubtsch and I didn't know where to run.
Thus we ended up in Minsk, but the Germans had arrived there before us so we had to go back. We had to pass through the Koidenav (Dzerzhinski) railway station, and this was impossible because it was covered with human bones and torn bodies. On the telephone cables were hanging human body parts; bodies that were still alive were laying about calling for help. Some [were] exhausted and asked for a bit of water. From under the ruins, crushed bodies cried for help. Those who were still alive were so helpless that the Germans came and captured us all.
I Escape from the German Horror
They took us to a field at a distance, put us in pits, and guarded us hard. We asked each other with our eyes: what will they do with us. The fear was great, we were hungry and exhausted. Suddenly one German asks who among us speaks German. Nobody replied so he asked:
Who is a Jew here?
They pointed at me. He called me. I go. When I approached him he asked who I am. I replied, a Jew. He kicked me with his foot several times and said:
A dirty Jew.
Thus [it happened] several times. When I didn't want to answer, he would beat me with his whip until I fell down into the pit, powerless, and then he would leave me alone.
He conducted himself like this with other victims until nightfall.
Then I came up with the thought of running away as soon as possible. There was anyway nothing to lose. I talked with several guys and also with Tsvi Krashansky from down the road, and we ran away.
But not everybody succeeded. The Germans noticed and I was suddenly alone.
I ran by myself through the big night until tired and dehydrated I fell down and fell asleep somewhere in a field.
They found me asleep and took me to Shtolptse. All those arrested were kept in a mill where they organized a camp. Man on top of man without food. After three days I managed to reach the pot, but I didn't have a dish for the thin soup so I took it in a hat and drank whatever was left.
A Month of Shivering in a Voronova Attic
I decided again to escape. I walked away through the fields, far from the roads, and came to Ivia. I met acquaintances. I heard what the German murderers were doing to the Jews…but strangely I felt compelled to go back home to see how my wife and child were.
I entered Voronova when nobody would notice me. I asked my aunt PeysheReikhl to take a message to my wife Reishke that I was there. My daughter Biene'le came over. She told me that Shaykeh Olkenitski, Yitzakh Volpianski, Shelovski, Zocharkin, and others, had been arrested yesterday, and that I was also on the list.
I hid in my aunt's attic and stayed there for three months. I used to look out at the street through a crack and see horrible things. Once I saw how they dragged Klareh Mansfeld, beating her all the way. They pushed down Velvl Rothman on the bridge and trampled him with their feet and didn't stop. Yitzakh Olkenitski and other Jews were [forced to] sweep the street near Aunt's house. I was informed of the mass murders in Eshishuk. I realised that the War would not be over for a while, so I decided to leave the attic and the shtetl.
On a dark night, my dearest Reishke and Biene'le came to say goodbye to me and I walked away to Radin. The nights were frightening with various explosions. The thought of leaving my closest ones behind was tearing up my heart. I walked away, couldn't help them, and who knew when we'd see each other again.
The nights were endless. I only wanted to see the light of the day and to know where I was, though the day brought with it perils. Finally after several days I saw the pinpoint of the Radin church. I went first to a home of an acquaintance, but he met me with horror on his face, and told me that he had his own aunt there, and didn't even invite me to sit down. I went to her, she welcomed me warmly, and then I went to the Judenrat to register myself under a false name. I wanted to rest here a bit. Towards the end of the War I received a letter from my Reishke, thru Itskovitsh: they were looking for me in Radin because a Gentile had recognized me. I had to run again.
I Made Myself a Partizanka
From Radin, Jews were taken to forced labor in the forest for the whole week and on Fridays were taken back home. I volunteered for this work, but on Friday I would stay in the woods instead of going back. I worked as a forest guard.
Once, the politzei came in the middle of the week to take Jews back to Radin. I decided not to go back. I convinced several other Jews; we spent the night in the forest. That night Radin was surrounded by armed beastialmen, the Germans picked out 70+ young Jewish guys, gave them shovels, and drove them to the cemetery outside the town. The guys understood what was going to happen so they decided to attack the Germans with the shovels and stones; they beat them up and fled. Some were killed by the murderers, but most of them were saved. They knew that I was hiding in the woods so they turned to me and proposed to organize a partisan squad.
The first mission was to get armaments. Meanwhile some Radin Jews had joined us with their belongings. We sold them and I managed to buy the first French rifle with several bullets. The Polish policeman who sold us the rifle told us where to obtain more rifles. The new rifles had already been taken by force. In a short time we had several guns and we decided to begin partisan activity against the murderers of our dear wives, children, brothers and parents.
First we went to the LidaGrodno road and exploded the bridges. Then we blew up and ruined their dairies in the town of Zavlats and in the village of Natsie, which had provided the murderers with butter, cheese and other dairy products.
We had to choose missions that would prevent us from encountering heavily armed murdererGermans, but we didn't want to limit our activities. Thus we took over 120 cows from German shepherds leading them to German battalions in Grodno, which cows had been stolen from Gentiles.
In Vashilishok and Radin we burnt down German food stores that worked for those rulers.
While still few in number and with primitive means, we blew up a train in which according to reports traveled mostly German victims.
I Killed the Murderer of Radin Jews
We were already 27 guys. Not all were armed, but were energetic and strong, and our lives strove for revenge against the murderers. We actually sought out confrontations with small German groups. Once, a released Polish officer informed us that in a village not far away 4 policemen are staying and preparing return. So we decided to attack them and take their arms. We gathered together. We gave each an advance. Not everyone was trained for combat. I was appointed to lead. According to my sign, Yehuda Bonk, a Lithuanian Jew and an exmilitary man, had to run out to the road and stop the wagon.
We chose a suitable spot, got close crawling on our bellies, and waited impatiently for our victims, and even more for their guns.
I was shocked when I saw instead of one wagon several, instead of 4 men 2830 Germans, armed from head to toe, and with them politzei. They stopped just by us, got off the wagons, and walked straight in our direction with pointed guns. I didn't know what to do. It was clear that we were betrayed and they had seen us. It would have been impossible to attack them; it was too close to run away; it was too stupid to let them through. Momentarily, there was a German standing near me pointing a machine gun at me. It was Obermeister Fried from the Radin ghetto, who was the leader of murderous acts against Radin Jews. I drew the trigger of my rifle and he fell down dead.
But it was also Yehuda Bonk's death verdict. He thought that it was my sign for him and he ran out to the road. He went out and never came back. To our luck, the Germans got frightened and fell flat on the road, so we ran away.
The next morning, Gentiles told that they [the Germans] had laid there for a long time. The German cowards didn't try to go further.
Shlomo Sodovsky's Revenge a Minute Before His Death
Our relationship with the Russian partisans was very bad. They constantly made trouble for their Jewish cofighters. Later we found out that they were criminals the Russians had brought from Siberian prisons to build barracks, stretch railways, and work fields. When the Russians retreated, they decided to stay in the PolishLithuanian forests. They earned their living by robbing and murdering under the disguise of [being] partisans.
But there were also Russian partisans with whom we collaborated closely. Once, looking for a bigger organization in order to join forces, we met a Russian group of exRussian officers. They had been imprisoned in an [unknown word] of the socalled Third Reich. In their midst were 3 Jews from Vashilishok. We united and a Russian officer became the commander of both groups. Both groups were poor on ammunition, but we managed to execute. One time I had the chance of blowing up a train with a shell, at other time with more primitive means. Not a minute passed without our making plans for revenge and death to the German murderers.
Meanwhile, a large portion of criminals broke off from their groups and formed a partisan squad not far from us in the same forest. We wanted to unite, but a war for leadership broke out and we had to retreat.
Before retreating, one snowy day the Germans captured a brother of one of the partisans. They tortured him to reveal the partisan locations. He brought them close to us and told them to fire a shot the partisans would go out from their ‘zemianki’ and the Germans could capture them. But the partisans replied with fire and scattered [them?]. So did the brother [scatter]. We went out to the road again to see what was going on. Some local drivers for the Germans told us everything and also how many Germans were there.
We lay not far from their quarters and when they came near we opened a crossfire and took down 8 corpses with guns. Among us only one was killed, but not from their bullets. He suddenly started running after an escaping German, shot his rifle and screamed:
This is for you for your murders! What did you have against my brothers and sisters?
And thus running and screaming, he fell down without breath and died. It was Shlomo Sodovsky from Subotnik.
According to partisan ethics and code it was a very honorable death when a man returns his soul while viewing falling and escaping fearful murderers of his folks and family.
1943 We are Expanding, I am Decorated
We moved to another forest. There we connected with a pioneer group from the Headquarters of All Partisan Units and organized into one squad, by the name Kotovski.
The criminal groups were executed the Soviet way and we began our new life. We were sent on big operations. In my eyes those days were the most fulfilling in my entire miserable life. I became a group leader. Everybody praised me. Everybody wanted to go to battle and on missions under my leadership, because I was a selfconfident and frontline commander. But most important I never lost a man in combat, I didn't allow drinking, and I always knew where my men were. In most difficult situations I always knew where to find each one of them and brought them back to the squad.
But about this on another occasion.
Once, my group was sent to the DrosknikAran line to off a train containing German officers traveling back from leave. We were delighted to hear that more than 100 of them were dead and dozens more wounded. On our way back a few guys decided to take some more revenge on a Polish forest guard who had murdered and handed over Jews for profit. He lived not far from the railway station in Aran. We meted out justice to him, but on our way back we received heavy fire. We had to retreat, but I didn't leave one man behind. We carried them on our backs and brought them back to the squad.
Almost that same month I participated in an operation on the MartsishantsZubrove railway line. We had to blow up a narrow line on which they carried wood from the forests. Heavy combat took place there. The Germans left behind 7 dead and 3 wounded who didn't survive. Among us there was one wounded, Shlomo Kurliantsik, from Aran. At the camp he managed to ask how many of the enemy had died. When we told him 10, he exclaimed:
Now it will be easier for me…and died.
At the end of '43, I was sent to blow up a telephone cable line and telephone posts on the VilneGrodne line. I executed the ask with few explosives and with no casualties.
At the same time I blew up a train carrying ammunitions, together with its passengers.
When I came back the commander called me in and decorated me with a high medal, on the order from high command in Moscow (copy of the medal order see page 331).
We Pick Off the German Murderers
That year our Jewish squad got a special assignment.
There were several Lithuanian villages around Vilne where the Germans had organized groups of locals, armed, and trained them to fight against the partisans. They were mostly after the guns, but even more was the wish to exterminate Jewish partisans. Naturally, for such a mission, they [Russians] sent Jews, and we accepted with joy the mission of picking them off.
I fought in the murderous Lithuanian village of Masteikiai. We surrounded them, captured all their fighters, the socalled samochava murderers for money we killed them all to the last. During this action I met Moshe Kaganovitsh from Ivia.
1943 was for me a year of action and fighting. There were times when we had to move back and forth from Third Reich [territory] to Belarus almost every day. The border patrol was guarding the borders very tightly, according to Hitler's orders, and guarded closely the territory which he wanted to annex to the Third Reich. So each time we had to cross it was with fighting and bravery. Both sides became tired and in one of [those] bloody confrontations we eliminated the patrol. We even obtained official control of the border passage and surrounding area.
Provisions were a complicated issue [and for that] we had a family unit, most of them Jews. Not all [civilian Jews] could bear camp conditions where supplies are so poor and dangerous to obtain. We [partisan] Jews understood and had to act. Thus in addition to all the fighting alongside the Christians we had an additional task: to get food and supplies for the families so they wouldn't die so near to liberation and victory. In one of such combats we lost a good partisan and friend, Tentser, and his blood stained my clothes.
Antisemitism of the Partisans
We expanded day by day. Our Kotovsksi squad grew to be a whole brigade under the name Leninsky Komsomol, so we received gun supplies from Russia by different ways and means, even from airplanes.
We even started recruiting people from the civil population, but then a bitter antisemitism broke out among the fighters and later also between the commanders. They were fed up with us. They didn't need us anymore. The orders became antiJewish: To deport part of the Jewish population to the east, etc.
In the forest there were more and more WhitePolish partisanskillers which used to attack our groups. They conducted negotiations with Russian partisans to betray Jewish fighters so they [the WhitePolish partisans] would stop attacking Russian squads. Once they captured a couple of Russians and demanded for them an exchange of several Jewish guys. Luckily, such decisions had to be made in the [communist] party, and there [in the party] my reputation was very strong due to my clean past and my name as a fighter, a fighter with two official decorations and a list of dozens of Germans killed by me personally. Along with me were several more similar Jewish heroes. Thanks to us they didn't succeed in their latest attempts to destroy the last Jewish survivors. Towards the end, three of us Jews were appointed to official posts wherein we had direct connections with Moscow, and thanks to this miracle we managed to survive until the end.
Again I Saved Myself From Voronova
After the War we came back from the woods. I was appointed chairman of District Social Aid in the town of Ostrin. I did everything to be relocated to Voronova for the same job. Voronova was empty of Jews. From every Jewish window looked out local robbers Gentiles who ripped off all the Jewish property without opposition.
On one occasion I was traveling with five other friends to Poletskishki, a village 11 km from us, to collect a zaym, a folk loan. We stayed for the night in the house of a Gentile, a loyal friend. That night someone clapped the door for me to go out. I understood that those were WhitePolish partisans. Our host told me that we were surrounded. I knew that it would be my certain death. I grabbed my revolver, told my friends to take care of themselves, stepped out through a window shooting, and escaped. Together with me escaped a high ranking Gentile and this saved me again. If not, my friends would have said that I was connected to the Poles and I would have had a close meeting with my killed friends.
It became clear to me for the 100th time that there is no life possibility for a Jew among Gentiles. I issued myself a jobtrip to Grodne. From there I took a train to Lodz. There I got help from Meir Shamir and I left the cursed Poland forever.
After the destruction of Nazism, the grab for all Jewish property and goods, under the cover of a new [world order], was no less a crime.
In Voronova I went thru another kind of tragedy.
by Zalmen Dukshtulski
Translated by Emma Karabelnik
Ed. Note: This article appears in both Hebrew and Yiddish in this book. The following is a translation of the Yiddish text. Photos appearing within the Hebrew version are included here.
From Vilne to Voronova on a Thorny Road
When the war between Russia and the Nazis started in June 1941, I was in Vilne. The Lithuanians knew that war was near. They took advantage of the negligence of the Russians, their aggressors, and slaughtered all of them until the last. The Lithuanian army had a significant part in it.
The Germans entered Vilne on June 26, 1941. I sensed the bitter taste of their regime and immediately started to arrange my escape. On the day they arrived I was not there anymore. I traveled to Biale Voki and from there to Voronova.
In Biale Voki they were digging peat for the Polish regime. The Germans exploited the Jews to dig heatingmaterials but didn't keep them locked up in ghetto. It was quite a nice feeling, and I decided to stay there. But the Germans themselves spread the rumor that in Voronova the Jews lived better than anywhere else, because it was in Polish district and the government was more liberal. I left behind Biale Voki and together with my family went to Voronova.
Near the town I was stopped by the Polish police. They were looking for my brother who was a longtime communist. They took me for my brother and arrested me.
In prison I met Yitzach Dvilianski and several other youngsters. The Poles had tortured us to death; they pushed and packed us into tiny rooms one could only stand. Even our natural needs we had to do standing.
On Yom Kippur night the Poles, some of them our school friends, decided to settle the account with us. They surrounded the prison and opened fire through the windows. We bent down, literally fell one on another, and somehow miraculously survived.
Luckily the Mayor showed up, a Pole who had escaped from Russians and for some time had lived in Vilne. He was handicapped and I had helped him there, as one would help a compatriot. I talked to his conscience and he released me.
So again I lived in Voronova, in a house of a Jew in the outskirts. Suddenly they arrested his wife. When he found out about it, being himself a bandit, he caught the Polish policemen and broke their bones. At night they came back with a bigger group and arrested all the men. Meanwhile the guy escaped and disappeared. They brought us to the Telephonists house, ordered us to strip naked, took us into a room one by one, put on the gramophone, and to the sounds of music beat us up to death, until the loss of consciousness. When a beaten man lost consciousness, they threw him out in the street. Once in the street, I regained my strength and crawled on all fours to the house of an acquaintance where I was taken care of.
In the morning I met a Polish policeman whom I had known before. He was surprised that I was still alive, that I was still walking around in his world. He promised me that one way or another I'd soon be dead, even if I had been saved this time.
I ran to Moshe Kaplan's brother. Moshe was also there. I wanted to go to my family as soon as possible. I was totally black and blue from the beating. I felt lonely and unprotected like a child.
I dragged myself home, walking and falling. It was February 1942. The authorities went after all Vilne Jews in Voronova. They gathered everyone in the cinema theater and murdered them to the last one. Among them was my wife who was also from Vilne. I didn't know that. On my way back home I met a Vilner from Avraham Marevski's troupe. He had miraculously survived and had fled the town disguised as a Gentile. He pretended not to know me and approached me as a Gentile. He strongly advised me not to go back to Voronova. He took me to Zhyrmun, 16 km from Lida. From there we continued to Lida. From him I learned about my wife's death. In Lida, Jews were still living in some peace, they were treated more liberally. The Head of the Yudenrat, Mr. Lichtman, had studied for years together with the Head Commissar so now they had friendly relationship. The town's priest was also friendly to Jews. Thanks to him the Germans were made to show some humanity, they eased conditions in the ghetto and provided necessities. There was no sign of Gestapo. Once, thieves sneaked into the priest's house and robbed him. In the morning the priest found a jacket with a yellow star. He demanded from the Jews that they give away the thieves and return what was stolen. The thieves were Jews, professionals. They wanted to turn suspicion away from them so they invented this:
It turned out that nonnative Jews from Vilne had done it, because local Jews wouldn't do such a thing to the good priest. Vilne Jews pretending to be ghetto Jews had performed the robbery. They also added that the robbers had bribed the Head of Yudenrat and the Head Commissar not to search them.
This was a typical underworld trick. The Gestapo took advantage and immediately arrested all the town elders. They collected all the Jews in the town square while the criminals walked around between the lines and pointed out every nonlocal. The Gestapo arrested all of these on the spot. I also was among them.
We spent 10 days in prison. We were about 60 men, and Lichtman was one of them. On the tenth day they took us out to shoot us. Luckily my bullet just scratched me. I was bleeding. I fell down in horrible shock. Those who had been shot after me fell on top of me, covering me, and I survived. Later, after several hours, at night, I woke up and was sorry that I was still alive. I was tired of my life. My bitter loneliness depressed and tormented me. I sat up, then stood up, and then noticed two other survivors. I recognized the two from Vilne, Konski and Perlshteyn, my acquaintances. We instinctively started running, crossed the fence, and ran away. I ran into the house of Slomnitski. I burned my bloodstained clothes and put on others.
Next morning I went out into the street and went to look for some work. I went to the painters. They had better conditions because they were useful to the Germans, who used them for their private works. There I met our Moshe Kaplan.
The Jews soon found out that I had survived. My relative spoke about me to some Gentile, so he said to find me and bring me immediately over. I took Perlshteyn with me and went away. First I wanted to go to Biale Voki. The winter was harsh. I knew that my mother had left some clothes with Christian friends. I let my mother know that I needed some clothing, so she had gone to the Christians to bring some warm clothing for her big miserable baby. The Christians handed her over to the murderers and she was murdered. My solitude grew even worse. I was disgusted with my life. I was disgusted to be a hunted animal. But I was alive, and with every day in which I managed to survive, my will to do everything to survive became stronger.
In Biale Voki Jews continued to work digging turf and were free to move around. I decided to run away and join the partisans, so we ran away.
When we were close to the forest, we asked some Gentiles to take us to the other side, because we had heard there were partisans there. The Gentiles wanted money from us. They also demanded wheat and corn. We had to make our way on our own. In the village Soroki Tatarov we met a Tatar, a talker. He told us that at nights bandits would come to steal food and meat. We understood who the bandits were. It was clear to me that in the RadinEshishuk surroundings their bands were hiding. I organized a group of 12 people (among them Grisha Gurvits who later became a substitute to Yitzach Sadeh in Palmah, and Lyuba Katz who now works in the university, and others). With great risk and time loss we got some weapons and went to Natscher Forest near Radin.
With trouble, hunger and hunted by Gentiles we finally arrived in the forest. We made our way with the help of our weapons and with being ready to fight for our lives.
We asked a Gentile in a field if there were partisans in the area. He was very frightened [of the Germans], but being afraid of us too he answered with typical Gentile diplomacy:
If you stay here for the night, you'll find out something.
We believed him.
We took to hiding and slept in two shifts. In the morning we heard the noise of wagons. When we went out of hiding we saw on the road slowly moving wagons filled with provisions. Obviously those were partisans. We approached them and asked them to take us with them. We told them we were friends of Yankele Konikhovski from Voronova. They believed we are kosher. Among them he was an important person so they took us along, but wouldn't let us into the camp. They wanted to wait for their commander, Stashevitsh, to return.
He came at night. He was a brave Russian paratrooper, and with him was his deputy. When they came close to us the deputy almost fell from his horse. It was Lyuba's brother Liova Katz. The meeting of the siblings was very dramatic. We were instantly attached to the partisans.
We immediately became involved in the partisans' activity. We lived in the moment. We got back our human dignity. The thoughts of revenge took over our minds and overcame all thoughts of danger in confronting the Germans.
From time to time, I and Grishka were sent to keep communications with Naliboker Forest which was our sector.
On our way we once found that in Eshishuk there were Jews hidden by Christians. When they ran out of money their hosts began picking on them and murdering them. We decided on our own initiative to do Jewish work. At night we went into a Gentile's who had murdered a Jew. We murdered him and left a note:
This Christian was murdered because of his crimes against Jews who were hiding at his place. And the same will be done to every one of you who decide to murder Jews or hand them over to Germans.
We were three who did this. Later we were joined by Niamke Zogovski (now a member of Egged Haifa). It had its effect: murders of Jews had stopped.
A delegation from Vilne ghetto came to us. They said that in Vilne there were Jews ready to take chances and flee to the forests. We arranged a meeting between them and Stashevitsh. He asked us who was ready to go into the ghetto to save people. I offered myself. I asked for 12 men, and together we went to Vilne.
We stopped in Biale Voki. Six of us went out in the direction of the ghetto, six others stayed behind in case the first six were caught by the Germans.
We entered the ghetto secretly so the Germans wouldn't notice us. The Jewish ghetto leaders did know about us. We were immediately fetched by Gants, the chairman of the Yudenrat and Dessler, the Jewish Police Commandant. Before we had time to think about our actions, Dessler took out a revolver and shouted and demanded for us to leave. Gants was ready to hear us out and agreed that we stay in the ghetto, but only if we promise not to take any Jews with us, This can bring great trouble upon us. We understood his fear. The man was decent in his own way; we promised him not to take anyone out of the ghetto.
We stayed in ghetto for a few days and then we left.with forty people, most of them young and patriotic. On our way we encountered a German ambush. A battle broke, and some of the 40 rescued were killed poor fellows didn't live to see the forest.
In Natsche, in the Leninsky Komsomol squad, the situation was very difficult. During the time we were gone, several raids and battles had taken place. The new men had no arms so we had to move them to Naliboki.
Our partisans retreated from the Polish partisans; we retreated to Rudnik where we found Russian paratroopers. At the same time partisans from the Vilne ghetto headed by Aba Kovner joined [us]. We had to assist them. Our purpose now was to help every Jew that had fled to save himself in the forest, and to continue actions to save more Jews. We again went to Vilne ghetto and took out groups to the partisans. Once, while leading such a group, we got caught into a battle with Poles. Chaim Laze, now the Chairman of Leumit Health Care in Israel, had lost his arm there. Several times we found Jews wandering in the forest.
They were usually hiding in some distant corner, cut off from all roads, from hope and security. They ran away from the Poles who, after they had managed to escape Hitler, persecuted and murdered them. They wanted to finish off the extermination of Jews. We took them in; we protected them until they were fit for fighting squads. One of such survivors was Lizka Weinshteyn, today a member of the Labor Committee in Histadrut.
With the Chapayevtzi
Here in this area we had bitter battles with the White Poles. While seeking to reconquer their homeland, on the way, they also sought to murder all remaining Jews. From time to time we had to retreat from our camp to prevent casualties.
During one such march, we came across Naratscher partisans, from the Chapayevtzi, who were fighting in Vilne area. Their commander, Lunka, took us in to lay landmines.
We began to lay mines under German military trains; hundreds and hundreds of German soldiers paid with their lives. Two weeks passed laying mines, sabotaging, and fighting. Then we went back to our base with trophies. I came back with an RKM Polish machine gun and Tuvye Shirs with a German automatic gun. Then our combat brothers offended us brutally and forced us to give away our dangerouslyearned automatic weapons. That was pure antiSemitism. Our Russian brothers didn't take into consideration our needs: our dangerous tasks required these weapons more than others. They just couldn't stand that Jews would be better armed than they. Luckily for us, our common commander, Makov, was friends with a Jewish guy. We told him about what had happened and expressed our fear and suspicion towards our brothersinarms.
He understood us well. He called the commissar for a clarification talk and ordered him to do everything to return the weapons to us. Obviously it caused a strong antiSemitic tumult. They tried to resist but he called them in and told them:
Well take a look: the Jews don't want to hide in pits, they want to fight. They are ‘boytsy’ fighters like us, and they are our brothers, so why do you bother them?
Then they assigned us to a special squad and our missions became interesting.
The great victory and the great danger
A striking thing occurred in Petratshi, which was described by Sutzkever and Kaczerginski after they asked us for details of this incident.
The post was supposed to come from Vileyka, Postov, and Narach but didn't arrive. The German posttrain was afraid to pass close to the forests. They were afraid to take a long trip so it was divided in two: one half the distance was traveled from one direction, the other from the opposite direction. They met in the middle and handed over the post to each other.
Our espionage squad found out about this and we went out to ambush the Germans. We waited for several hours and when the German Miadzshuler police appeared we let them through and then attacked them from behind and liquidated them to the last one.
Those were Belarusians and Poles under the command of a German. Our joy was enormous. We were happy with our great victory. We went into the nearest village, got drunk, and overdid it a little. Luckily for us the vodka was not so strong so we were not totally drunk, otherwise who knows what might have happened. Meanwhile the Postov garrison came in [to the village] and they bumped into us. The battle lasted 6 hours. Partisans from the area came to help us, but they came too late. Meanwhile we, alone, managed to kill them and take 20 prisoners.
The prisoners were from surrounding villages. The partisans knew them well and asked the commander to hand them over to them for trial. Vengeance filled everyone's hearts. The commander conducted a trial by the book. The verdict was clear; we treated them in their own way. They had to dig their own pits and we did the rest. We didn't waste bullets on them. We used knives. We inhaled the taste of revenge in all its ugliness.
And another battle, also neat and justified
We were on our way to occupy a hostile Lithuanian camp. There we lost a good friend of ours, a famous hero who received the highest decoration after his death. His name was Itzke Blatt, from Glubok. Itzke used to cross German lines and perform the most outrageous tasks. When we were close to occupying the camp, in perfect Lithuanian he decided to convince them to defect, to surrender by their own free will, and to spare needless suffering: they shot him at close range. It was a low cowardly act befitting cowardly murderers. After surviving for years in the partizanka he fell from a cowardly bullet. We paid them back with all our strength. We have had many battles, but this one, I think, was the neatest and the most interesting.
As ‘chapayevtsy’ we had to live up to the name, meaning to wipe out every track of Germans and their collaborators wherever we could find them. We did as we were ordered. A lot of Germans fell into our hands and didn't see the world anymore. There were Germans who we kept alive according to orders from Moscow; later they collaborated with us against their own folks. When we demobilized we left them alive [because] they were really loyal to us and deserved to live. They probably became important founders of East Germany. It was a time of Russian imperialism, and that was always more important than the simple human and Jewish need for revenge.
In Narach Jews Are in Charge
Here we built up a strong partisan unit. We had to continue fighting, paid for with expensive casualties. Frequent German blockades forced us to fight for our lives and sometimes to hide in bunkers. The German terror continued to bother us and we had no peace and quiet, but those encounters added more meaning. We were fighting against a death threat which was around us all the time. Of course it affected the Jewish squads more than others. The most extraordinary was the unit of Podpolnien, a Jewish guy, brave like a leopard, he spread fear and terror in the surroundings. This all came to the point where the whole forest up to BaranovitshNaliboki, tens of kilometers in width and in depth, became partisan territory. People could get through only with our passes, while all around was the German regime.
The truth is that the Germans burnt their [local population] houses in order not to give them away to partisan hands, while we demanded various foodcontributions and took everything from them by force.
Jewish Contribution to the Russian victory over the Nazis
On the 1st of May, 1944 the central command in Moscow ordered us to blow up all the railway lines from Vilne to the Neman frontline. This was meant to be a holiday present for MotherRussia.
We performed our mission completely. By June 22 of the same year all the lines were blown up and destroyed.
Then began the Russian counterattack from Stalingrad, and our work helped them a lot. The Germans who were cut off from their transportation lines remained stuck in small weak positions, isolated from their command points, and their defeat was coming closer and closer.
We accomplished this on our own, without anyone's help. We wanted to emphasize our special contribution to the Nazi fall. Among us were young fighters, strong and brave. I remember Tevke Shirs, Magid, Kutcher and others. Later we had to take over Myadl, a city surrounded by lakes which was totally a German island, heavily settled by them and heavily protected by their murderous guns. We occupied and took many of them into captivity. Among them was also a Russian partisan who had earlier betrayed us. We made justice with them all, like it should be.
Finally we encountered the Russian Army. Among them I noticed a Jew, an officer. He also recognized me. Like Joseph and Benjamin in the Bible, we wept on each other's shoulder. He told me:
Until I came to here, I didn't find any sign of Jews, and all the evidence of their extermination was covered up. I didn't believe that I'd be seeing any living Jews.
They continued and we were left again in the forests, spending many long months full of danger, fighting, and revenge.
Out of the Forest
We lived with the hope that all of this would end and we could go home, bringing consolation to our remaining most beloved, but there was nobody left, unfortunately.
Vilne was partly destroyed, but most of Jewish houses were still standing intact and untouched. They were occupied by Gentiles the good neighbors. Tevke Shirs did find his father and his brother alive.
The Russians treated me with great honor. They took me for my brother, the long time communist from the Polish regime. I was appointed to an important position. I was nominated for police commandant in Turgal. I started to organize local police there. There I met with a Jewish youngster, Weitzman, with whom I had worked digging peat before I left Voronova. He is now in Netanya. He told me:
Run away from here, as soon as possible. As soon as they find out that you are a Jew, they'll kill you at night and nobody will even notice.
I escaped to Voronova again.
It was midAugust of 1944. There I met Yitzach Dvilianski. Meir Shamir had been there before me and had left. Moshe Kaplan was in the Russian Army. There were several others, mostly women, with the same tragedies. Jewish houses stood untouched and Gentiles lives in them. They would walk around Voronova and behave as if they were in their own backyard, without a bit of shame. I was appointed Head of the Fire Department. I found amidst the firemen all the murderers of our parents. They had been prison guards over us in the German prisons. When I informed on them to the higher authorities, they replied:
We know, we know!
I couldn't stay in Voronova anymore. Gentiles continued to murder the remaining Jews whenever they had an opportunity. I was together with Dvilianski; we both had a bad feeling. The fact that one could walk around in one's own town, see doors opening up, and instead of seeing the expected familiar bunch of people so dear to you, one sees Gentile faces, Amalek's grandchildren. This alone killed any desire to stay in the town. Meanwhile Moshe Kaplan arrived. He also thought we should leave there. The Russian Army was short of friziern, so I joined him. Obviously I deserted, but I had no other choice.
I felt a certain responsibility for Dvilianski. I was afraid he would have trouble because of me. We both went to our commander, who was looking for meat for his soldiers, and we offered him to go to Voronova to confiscate a cow from every house. In that way we pulled out Dvilianski with us.
Here a remarkable incident happened.
Our unit served with the NormandyNeman division. These were French air forces that assisted the Russian Army. The command was in Russian hands. The battles on the frontline were still quite strong, many casualties were still falling. Only we were not sent to the frontline. When we wanted to understand the reason, one of the [officers] in the headquarters explained:
We will not send you to be killed. There are so few survivors among you. Not even one of you should be endangered. Just a small number of Jews remained in the world. You have suffered enough killing, enough is enough.
In Gerda, Germany we were paid a visit by General Volfianov from the Tschelushkin expedition. The situation there was critical, the famous hero Tscherniachovsky has fallen. Volfianov had come to collect all the [scattered] formations and bring them together closer to the frontline. He was about to give us an order to come with him but Major Cohen, Head of the local N.K.V.D. introduced me and Dvilianski as representatives of the partisans who had fought the enemy for all those long war years. Volfianov stood up in front of us, saluted, and said:
My fullest acknowledgement, such people should be protected, don't send them to the frontline!
I never thought of myself as a fighter, a person with military skills, a sabotage doer and a terrorist, but there are no inexplicable surprises in life: the Nazi satan awoke in me such powers. And I was not the only one. All my friends, partisans from Voronova, were like me. In such a manner, Nazism had planted the seeds of its own death.
This should be a lesson for the future generations. One should not look at a person from the outside only; one should look at a person as an endless source of abilities and skills. As soon as one is ordered or forced to unveil and use them, one unveils and uses them.
This is an important conclusion for us, for our children, for our children's children, for the small Jewish folk.
Y. Konichovski partisan medal
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