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The Last Will and Testament of Fania Barbakow (1923- 1942)
(translated by Eilat Levitan and Courtney Gordon)
This chapter of the book, the second chapter, is called SurvivorsÕ Recollections. All the stories are personal stories of those who survived and arrived to a safe haven. All but one. Fania Barbakov was not blessed to be one of the survivors. She perished along with most of her family in Druja on June 16, 1942.
Her last will and testament and letter of goodbye were written just hours before she was murdered. These letters undoubtedly have humanitarian value. They comprise a shocking testament from the Holocaust period.
Fania was born in 1923 in the shtetl of Druja, to her parents Zeev and Zisle.
Zisle and Zeev (Velvel) Barbakov
They were among the most respected families in Druja. Very warm and hospitable, they welcomed relatives and friends and received any Jew with open arms. The father owned a flour mill and was well off. Zisle and Zeev (born 1880; son of Zalman) had two sons, Chatze and Manos, and five daughters, Sonia (eldest, born 1905; married Yehezkel Berkman and had three children, Zusia who survived, Rasia, born 1924, and Zelda, born 1937), Bluma (born 1915; married Mr. Kroman; lived and perished in Dvinsk), Chaya (married Mr. Kagen and went to Israel before the war), Fania (born 1924), and Sima (born 1926). The only survivors of the Holocaust were Chaya (today Kagen), who is now living in Kiryat Ata, Israel, and Zusia Berkman (FaniaÕs nephew). Here is an excerpt of what Chaya told us:
Fania was the sixth child of seven children. Until the start of the war in 1939, Fania studied in the public Polish school. As the Soviets annexed the area as a result of the Hitler-Stalin agreement of 1939, the school became a Soviet school. Fania was in her last year of high school in 1941. From a very young age, my sister Fania showed much courage and had extraordinary pride in Jewish history.
In June of 1941, the Germans attacked the Soviet Union and right away bad times came upon the Jews in Druja: they were forced into the ghetto and their annihilation was imminent. FaniaÕs nephew, Zusia Berkman (the son of FaniaÕs sister, Sonia), tells about FaniaÕs behavior during the period in the Druja ghetto.
Even in the horrible days in the ghetto, Fania would walk with her head held high, with an internal sense of confidence. She would comfort her family and friends. She always told us that we must show our Jewish pride when confronted by the Germans. She would constantly sing a Russian song that expressed a strong commitment to fighting the Germans.
The Barbakov home was part of the ghetto. In better times, they had used their basement under the backyard for ice storage in the summer. Underneath the basement, the family had dug a secret bunker and they hid there when the Nazis and their helpers liquidated the Jews of the Druja ghetto. Sadly, their hiding place was discovered and all the family members were removed to be killed. Fania began writing her notes the day they went into hiding. She wrote in Russian on seven pages of a notebook. It appears that the last pages were written minutes before the hideout was discovered by the Nazis. The exact details of the murders are not clear; there are a few reports. One report says that Fania and her sister, Sima, were killed inside the synagogue, where the Nazis collected all the Jews that had been in hiding. Another version says that they were taken, along with the other Jews that had been rounded up, to a killing field with a trench for the murdered Jews. The small notebook was hidden inside the bunker and Fania somehow managed to let a Christian family friend, Myron Vasilov, know the location of the hidden letters before she was murdered.
Somehow, outside of the bunker, Fania was able to write her final note in Yiddish on an official document of the Nazis. The original letters were given by Mr. Vasilov to FaniaÕs nephew, Zusia Berkman, soon after the war. Today, FaniaÕs notebook is part of the Museum of the Ghetto Fighters in Israel. The final letter in Yiddish, as well as family photos, were found by a farmer and also given to Zusia Berkman.
Young FaniaÕs bravery comes through in the notes she wrote before her death. This testimony belongs to the Holocaust research.
- from the bunker
A farewell blessing to all. Before being taken to my death, from Fania and the rest of my family members.
My dears, a farewell before I die. Although I do not know the exact moment that I and the rest of my family will be killed, I am certain that it will be soon. We will be murdered simply because we are Jews. Many of our Jewish brothers and sisters were already killed in a most humiliating way, at the hands of the Nazi killersÉI do not know who will survive from our family and who will have the blessing to read this letter filled with my proud parting words before I die to all my dearly beloved who are tortured at the hands of the killers.
My dear sister Chayale, and brother Manoska, it could be that you survive. Live a life full of happiness and abundance. Know that we are marching with pride to our death since this is our fate. We already know that our sister Bluma and her entire family already perished [husband Efraim and children Avraham, Chaya, Iosif, Chava, and Zavel, in Dvinsk]. I cannot continue writing now because all the dear ones are now crying and are filled with sorrow. I am going to leave this letter with our dear friend who has done us much good until now.
Fania and the rest of the family
We are all lying in one hole. IÕm not sure if you will know where to find our grave. Mother and father are having a very difficult time and they are barely surviving. My hands are trembling and itÕs hard to write but know that IÕm a proud Jew. I die for my people. I didnÕt tell anyone that IÕm writing this letter before we dieÉHow I wish I could survive and attain a little bit of the goodness of life, but all is lostÉBe well.
Your relative Fania in the name of all of us: Father, Mother, Sima, Sonia, Zusia, Rasia, Chatze, and in the name of tiny Zeldele who doesnÕt yet understand anything.
In a concentration camp before we are to be murdered by shooting in hiding.
Tuesday, 4 am, 6/16/1942
Goodbye to all. Yours, Fania.
- Note in Yiddish, written on a German document, minutes before she was killed:
God is truth and his sentence is truth. We have done wrong. The little that was left was hidden underneath the house but our life is lost. All is done. Brothers from all nations, avenge our deaths! We have been taken like lambs to the slaughter.
Bottom: Zusia Berkman, Sonia Berkman nee
Barbakov (holding the baby), Sima Barbakov, and Zelda Berkman (baby), Zeidlin,
Feiga Lurie and Mr. Pliskin.
Druja, c. 1939
Bottom from left: Sima Barbakow, Zusia
Top from left: ?, Yitzhak Berkman, Feiga Lurie (born 1923 to Khaim and Sara nee Taitz; she escaped to the forest and was later killed by the Nazis)
Zusia Berkman (FaniaÕs nephew) survived as a partisan fighting the nazis, and later went to Israel.
Barbakov Fania, Yelin
Bluma Kroman and Zimer ?
Sima Barbakow, Rasia Berkman and Luisa and Feiga Lurie of Druia