The Sherman Story
Retold by Meir Sherman to his daughter, Julia
Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan
Edited by Kevin Chun Hoi Lo
About My family:
I was born in Druya on May 19, 1928 to the family of Gavriel and Rivka Sherman. All my grandparents from both sides of the family had many siblings. Grandfather Chaim-Hirsch Sherman (born in Druya to Ura in 1862) lived in the eastern outskirts, which was called "Sapezhina." He had many children: my father Gavriel was his only son and the rest were all daughters. The daughters Khana and Beyle lived in Druya. Gita lived in Vil'no and Faye in Daugavpilse. All of them, including my grandfather and grandmother, perished in the Holocaust. The family of my grandfather Khaim was well-off, materially speaking. He gave his son and daughter Khana a high-quality brick house on one of the central streets in Druye (during the Polish occupation, the street was called the Third of May). We lived in the left wing, near the post office; on the right, near the
railway station, lived Aunt Khana with her husband, Abraham Buzak. After the arrival of the Soviets in 1939, they nationalized our house, and the urban municipality office was located within it. My second grandfather (from my mother’s side) was Meir-Aron Levinman. Before the First World War, Meir had fallen ill with tuberculosis. His daughter, my future mom Rivka, transported him for treatment all the way to the Crimea (all his children gathered money for it despite having little money to spare). Grandfather passed away in the Crimea. He left his sons Zelik, David, Elye- Ber and his daughters Rose, Rivka, Polya, Ginda and Genya. Visually, I do not remember his wife, Grandmother Chaya. I hope that all the inhabitants of pre-war Druia, whom I could not recall, will forgive me.
Zelik, Rose and Polya left for Moscow during the First World War. They all lived long lives and died there of natural causes. My mother Rivka was a very beautiful woman, and could have probably married someone wealthier than my father Gavriel. He did not have any specialized education, though even his sisters had had some higher education: Khana learned to be a teacher and Faye was a dentist. The aunts and uncles (my mother’s siblings) obtained no higher education. Two of them lived in Druye and its environs; Ginda went singly into the grave, and Genya, also single, was lost in the Holocaust. They were both married but they lived apart with their families; Ginda in Pogost and Genya in Glemboke. During Polish control of the area, a press stood in our courtyard - a wonder for those times. Under the shed several stakes were pressed into the earth, near which worked four to five people, who were being employed to remove the shive from flax fiber with the aid of manual tools. Where did father obtain the flax? How? I do not know.
I remember that they moistened the flax which had been purified of shive, dried, combed, sorted it by softness and they baled it up with metallic wire. These packages were sent then by railroad to the spinning and weaving factory. I think that the production was not our responsibility, but it was instead organized by this factory. Father worked as a manager. I think this because my father could not actively direct people, but the specific income this occupation gave made it possible to maintain the family under decent living conditions. Besides me, Father had my oldest sister Sara, who lived in Vil'no with aunt Gita; there she fell ill with transient meningitis and died just before the Second World War. My aunt Gita and her husband Lipman Bulkin got to know all the horrors of the Vilna ghetto. Twice they were sent to the killing fields of Ponary and miraculously it was possible to rescue them, but in the end, when the prisoners of the Vilna ghetto were exported to Estonia, the two of them were shot and burnt in the death camp of Slokas. In
the ghetto of Daugavpils another aunt perished with her husband, Faye
When I grew up, I returned to learn at the Jewish school, where my Aunt Khana and her husband Abraham Buzak were teachers. My teacher was the young and beautiful
Leya Blank, who arrived to us from Zaleshchiki, which is located somewhere beyond
L'vov in the Ukraine. After the end of four grades my mom transported me to a rayon
(povyatovyy) center in Braslav, where I passed examinations for entering into the first grade of secondary school and I was enrolled at the Druyskeye secondary school, which was located in a Catholic church. This was one of the most interesting buildings of city. At that time my father was selected by the local chapter of the Jewish Cooperative Consumers Society. Their “office" was placed in our room and my father would meet with the poor people, write them drafts of letters, issue credit, and note all this information into a notebook. In the morning, Uncle Elye-Ber would check this notebook; he conducted the bookkeeping, although he had never obtained any specialized education in bookkeeping.
Secondary school to me was in no way memorable, except for a young Pole who taught the first class of Latin. I personally did not learn much Latin, though I did learn to ride horses and the bicycle, which in those years was considered a rarity. Our family was not characterized by much religiosity, and girls and boys from the adjacent courtyards called me a “goy" for frequently riding horses on Saturday. I industriously became acquainted with the Torah, and before the war I would go to the house of some devout person to be trained in the basics of the Tanakh. On Saturdays we walked with Father to the synagogue, which was located by the Druyka river in the brick house between the
railroad and the bridge and next to the common grave, where almost all my relatives were laid to rest. In this synagogue, at an honorable distance near my grandfather, two places were reserved: for myself and my father.
During the first years of my life, I do not remember any fights between the Jews, the Belorussians and the Poles, who all lived in one territory. The first time I felt hostility from them was when I began to study in the secondary school: "Why do you not walk to prayer with the Roman Catholic priest, but instead learn during recess?" Then the Poles began to laugh at us for being so short and for having peyes (curly sideburns). Before the arrival of the Soviets, during the last years of Polish rule, inscriptions began to appear on the walls and the desks: "Jews to Palestine!" Then swastikas next to such inscriptions appeared on the walls of some houses. The older people perceived this extremely negatively, they said that it was their envy of the better Jewish students and their parents. With these years of training in anti-semitism, the soil for it in Poland was already well-prepared as the second half-year of 1939 arrived. There was one incident on terminal 4 when a small mean girl yelled "Go to Palestine!” I hit her and her loud cry gathered the entire crowd, who murmured that "the Jew does not want to go to Palestine because he thinks it’s good here!" Somehow I managed to run away from the violence and get to the house, where my father patiently explained to me what the matter was: that I had become the enemy of Poland, without even knowing it...
I remember well the arrival of the Soviets in September of 1939. We did not own a radio, but I learned about the arrival of the Red Army the day prior from a note on a fence, which was being placed at the intersection of the main streets. We walked to this corner to buy some ice cream, and a note in the Russian language was before my eyes. I remember it verbatim: "Comrades! Tomorrow is the day of our release. We request that you all hang red flags on your houses. Good health to the Red Army!" Before the arrival, I remember that the Polish policemen attempted to prevent it. I remember their fuss on the bridge, where they brought two barrels of kerosene, attempting to burn the bridge. But this for some reason did not work out. The Soviet regime appeared in Druye with two
tanks and several trucks, in which sat the Red Army soldiers on benches. For us everything was strange: the tanks themselves and the bizarre dress of the Red Army men with their fur sweaters, boots with the windings, and budennovki caps. The small Polish garrison disappeared entirely without much fuss. Incidentally, in the Polish military served several Jewish fellows, who on Fridays and Saturdays came to us to board and together with us walked into the synagogue.
We saw soldiers surge out of vehicles to purchase oranges, mandarins, etc.; they purchased everything cheap that was located in our little shops. We then understood that these people did not live very happily. I remember weakly the Soviet prewar period. We
were grateful to the Red Army and the USSR for the release from the anti-Semitic oppression. But these grateful feelings darkened somewhat after the numerous arrests for incomprehensible reasons and the convoys, accompanied by the NKVD, which took away into Kazakhstan the so called “enemies of the people.” The expectations of new arrests darkened our spirits. Even without that, life would not have been very happy . Bread lines that stretched into infinity, soap was always in short supply, many goods disappeared from the stores.
I will now talk about the inhabitants of prewar Druia, whom I remember. Mother's brother David Levinman, his wife Friede and daughter Braynele lived there. Uncle Elye- Ber Levinman, still did not have family and he resided together with Grandmother. They lived poorly, and I would frequently bring them food and milk. They lived in their family house next to the small bridge, on the descent to the creek of Druyka. Khana, the sister of my father, with her husband Abraham Buzak lived next to us in the second half of the house. Aunt Beyle with her husband Joseph Serebranik and their young sons (Khagay and Malkiel) lived together with Grandfather Chaim-Hirsch Sherman. They all perished in the Holocaust. As for our close relatives, Shlomo Zaydlin lived in Druye with his family. He was a cousin of my mother and there was also her cousin Bassheva Vigdergauz with her family. I remmember Shlomo as a healthy broad-shouldered man, a true optimist, very mobile, active and merry. Shlomo and his wife Sonya had two sons, Elia Ber and Isaac. Elia Ber was a strong and beautiful fellow already before the war. They survived the catastrophe, and I remember well our last encounters, when they returned from the guerilla detachment. In Basshevy lived the daughter of Fruma and Bassheva’s sons Elia Ber and Zalman. The family lived next to the street which leads to the power station. One additional by-street, which leads to the Western Dvina. The house of Basshevy was on the contrary facing the central street. Houses were wooden, strong.
Although the center of pre-war Druia is in fragments, it is restored in my memory since I still remember the Shpayer family who lived on the next street and particularly their children Folya (Rafail) and Braina. Whether they were related to us, I am not confident. But Braina survived the Holocaust; he had been rescued by Hadora (Fedora Ivanovna) Tarutko, the same woman who saved us. She hid Braina in her house during the war.
Mother was friends with the family of Pesja Drujanov. Pesja was the midwife and lived also on the central street near the drugstore of Dvormana. She had a daughter, the black-eyed beauty To Taybele. She was rescued by a Polish man, but her later destiny is unknown to me. The Lurje family lived near us. Feygele Leyba Lurje had three sons and one daughter named Feygele. This beautiful and timid girl was the youngest of the family. Before the war, the Lurje children went to school. One of boys was in a guerrilla group. I met him after the war and he was a beautiful fair-haired man. On the outskirts of Zapadnaya Dvina lived the Safro family. I was friends with their sons. During the day of destruction in the ghetto the parents and their three sons hid in a cellar of the house. The whole family was miraculously rescued. Their son Uri had studied with me at school. In 1951, on educational practice in Riga, I found him there. They lived in the area where the Riga ghetto had earlier been. When I went to Riga again in 1954, I did not find them and their neighbors told me that they had emigrated. I remember Meyer Finkelstein. He was five or six years my senior. Near the end of the war, he was called for military service and wounded in the fight for Budapest. After the war, he returned to Druya. Our ways have not crossed since.
I remember the beginning of the war very clearly. We were sitting on a bench near his grandfather’s house in the morning when Goyetskiy, one of Polish military veterans living here, suddenly sat down by us and threw his arms around Father’s neck and cried, "What we have been waiting for has come!" Closer to noon single shots at the Latvian party were heard; it was the Ayzsargi, members of a pro-fascist nationalist underground. After eleven days, we were told that the head of the country would broadcast at noon. And at 12:00 sharp, the well-known statement of Molotov was played on the radio.
Germany launched a massive attack on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Below is the initial Soviet reaction, broadcast to the people by Molotov (1889-1986), Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union
Citizens of the Soviet Union:
The Soviet Government and its head, Comrade Stalin, have authorized me to make the following statement:
Today at 4 o'clock a.m., without any claims having been presented to the Soviet Union, without a declaration of war, German troops attacked our country, attacked our borders at many points and bombed from their airplanes our cities: Zhitomir, Kiev, Sevastopol, Kaunas and some others, killing and wounding over two hundred persons.
There were also enemy air raids and artillery shelling from Rumanian and Finnish territory.
This unheard of attack upon our country is perfidy unparalleled in the history of civilized nations. The attack on our country was perpetrated despite the fact that a treaty of non-aggression had been signed between the U. S. S. R. and Germany and that the Soviet Government most faithfully abided by all provisions of this treaty. .....
Vyacheslav Molotov (1889-1986), Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union
We, the children, sat on a balcony and looked at the tears of the women. We did not understand what had happened. The nearby houses seemed to be in a mourning mood – some neighbors talked of their fears of Hitler. But other neighbors were calm: "The Germans are a cultured nation, and if they come, the simple people will not be touched. German armies came and started to erect the pontoon bridge through Zapadnaya Dvina. For their labor force, they enlisted the peaceable local population (not just the Jews). While the bridge had been built, the Germans went into the streets, caught hens, demanded things. Dark days for us came when the order has appeared: Jews had to have sewn yellow Magen-Davids on their chests and back and are obliged to bow and remove their caps. Jews were not authorized to trade, visit shops, the market, etc. For disobedience, there was only death. In my memory, the first Jew in Druya to be shot by the Germans was Rayskin, the mathematics teacher of the Jewish elementary school. The Germans had demanded a key to his house and when he hesitated, they shot him.
Life became terrible. Many people, even children, were collected for road work and other hard labor. Buying or selling food was not allowed and we were warned that if somebody was caught with bought or found food, they would be shot. We lived close to the railway that brought groups of fascists. They amused themselves with shootings, robberies, beatings. Soon, in Druya, as well as in other local small towns, the Germans organized ghettos. We heard terrible tales of these places, about executions where nobody escaped. The river Zapadnaya Dvina and the small river Drujka that joined it at the mouth made for natural borders, and protected bridges through to Druyka and an eastern fence allowed the Germans to trap 1500 Jews in a ghetto (2500 Jews lived in Druya before the war). I do not remember well the process of stealing in the ghetto since I was often seriously ill. On some days, our family lived together with seven others in a terribly small house. I do remember the starvation and the kidnapping for heavy labor. The authorities sorted out old men, women, patients and children. We had nothing, so everything had to be traded for through an exchange of clothes, linen, and footwear with the local population through the cracks at the borders of the ghetto or smuggled out during work shifts. In the ghetto, a Judenrat was formed, an internal police that issued orders and through which orders, requirements of delivery of things were transferred. The head of the Judenrat was the Druggist Dvorman – a quiet person who was kind at heart, but rather timid in relation to the authorities – and to politicians that he had appointed. Father had an agreement with a friendly neighbor, Drui Mickiewicz, and before leaving for the ghetto, he left with him a box of things, which they kindly returned to us later. In this box, Father left an album of photos, mementos from a quieter life that to this day serves as memories of victims. The Mickiewiczs were a responsible family; they carried out all our requests which we transferred through notes. It is necessary to note that we were blessed with good people. In the summer of 1942, there were rumors about the mass executions of prisoners in ghettos closer to Vil’no. The ring of these actions all came nearer to Druya. We already had witnesses who had been saved living in nearby small towns. People began to expect with bitterness the inevitable. Our lot was determined by days and then into our destiny came Aunt Hadora (Fedora Ivanovna) Tarutko, familiar to my mum, but not so closely acquainted to me. The house of her relatives was near the ghetto. On July 17, 1942, she told us to spend the night somewhere near the borders of the ghetto and late at night, after we heard shots ringing out on the bridges to Druyka, she came tearing along to us, seized my mum and I by the hands and dragged us out of the ghetto. Where we passed the border of the ghetto, for some reason neither Germans nor police appeared. We started to run through the fields surrounding the city. On an exit near a railway station, we saw a person with something which seemed to us like a rifle. The shooting was all amplified and inside the ghetto, separate fires burned furiously. We started running. The person who frightened us was the guy who had been saved from execution in Leonpol. The four of us ran and we got closer to Zap, to Dvina, aside villages Stajki. In the few minutes before dawn, we reached the cow shed of our Khadora. 17.07 towards evening the guy has moved one aside Leonpolya, and more our ways were not crossed. In the morning, someone told us about what had happened in Druya. For a long time, we did not know whether anyone else had been rescued. In those terrible days, it seemed like we were utterly alone. All the work from our rescue had been undertaken by Aunt Khadora. Despite the many difficult and dangerous problems, she succeeded in rescuing us. She constantly prepared spare spaces for us where we could hide in case of searches. Still there were food shortage problems. Our saviors were poor people and to support two addition mouths was very hard. Luckily for us, the people who saw us did not betray us and only warned our rescuers to be more careful. One more problem was the appearance of many parasites on our dirty bodies that took whole days to remove. Bathing on a regular basis was not possible since in Belarus, two to three families frequently shared one bath. In order to avoid detection, we had to bathe in full darkness. There were also rather unusual situations. In one village close to Miory, we ended up rescuing the people who had rescued us. We were in hiding with unusually rich owners whose house was filled with good furniture, which for those times was a rarity. As we found out later, they had four children, one of whom was a politician who didn’t know that we were hidden at his parents’ house. At that time, there were Jews in the ranks of the local guerrilla fighters. To survive, the guerrillas had been confiscating horses and cattle from prosperous peasants. When the guerrillas came to our house, the owners admitted that they were able to save their son from them because they were able to say that they had saved us. Their cattle was not confiscated. To tell the truth, it has caused bewilderment in other inhabitants of village so Khadora had to look urgently for a new refuge. For two years Khadora arranged refuge for us with probably fifteen different people. After the Red Army cleared through, we returned to Druya, knowing that after that terrible time of wandering through villages and campaigns in the woods with the guerrillas, that there were about forty people still alive. Among our relatives have remained only the cousin of my mother, Zaydlin, with his sons and her cousin Bassheva Vigdergauz with three children. All these terrible things that happened in Druya, we found out from eyewitnesses of those events. Together with Khadora, we stood for a long time at a place of execution, a burial place for our dear ones. Someone who had survived read Kadish and we stood there, sobbing about the killed and thought, “How will we go on?”
An informal "club" spontaneously developed at the house of Bassheva Vigdergauz. A meal for all of us was supplied by Shlomo Zaydlin. We were all grateful to them for our rescue. Some young Jewish guys together with locals enlisted in a group that planned to destroy a battalion of ROVD. We were armed with Mosin's old Soviet rifles. Our task was to protect warehouses of food (potatoes) from rear army parts and militias. The also saved us from starvation. Under the insistence of my former teacher Nikolay Ivanovich Litvinov I fought in a guerrilla group under Captain Kazantsev, whose daughter I had studied with before the war when my mum had insisted on my learning a technical specialty. My mum has married Abraham Buzak and they have left for Moldova. Our relatives with great hardship were able to reach Israel. Contact with them was lost for some decades, and the only thing that remained from them was a record in my mother's writing-book with their Israeli address, but we unsuccessfully tried to find them. It was possible only in 2008 due to the Internet, with the help of a big number of natives from Druya, and of course, with a lot of lucky coincidences and circumstances. All of us are rather old, so seeing each other is difficult and not likely. The others have already passed away.
David and his daughter
Teachers of the Jewish school (1931)
(Top left) H. Raiskin, arithmetic teacher Не was killed in the first days of the occupation.
(Top right) Avraham Buzak, Yiddish teacher. He survived the Shoah.
Picture submitted by Julia Sherman
Gavriel Scherman was born in Druja in 1890 to Khaim and Khaia. He
was a merchant and married to Rivka and had two children. Prior to WWII
he lived in Druja, Poland. During the war he was in Druja, Poland.
Gavriel perished in Druja, Poland. This information is based on a Page
of Testimony submitted on 27-Aug-1956 by his relative.
Khaim Sherman was born in Druja in 1866 to Ora. He was a merchant
and married to Khaia. Prior to WWII he lived in Druja, Poland. During
the war he was in Druja, Poland. Khaim perished in Druja, Poland. This
information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted on 27-Aug-1956
by his relative Avigdor Hoiz.
Chana Scherman was born in Druja in 1893 to Khaim and Khaia. She was
a housewife and married. Prior to WWII she lived in Druja, Poland.
During the war she was in Druja, Poland. Chana perished in Druja,
Poland. This information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted by Vigderhauz.
Sara Sherman was born in 1899 to Beynis. She was a worker. Prior to
WWII she lived in Druya, Poland. During the war she was in Druya,
Poland. Sara perished in Druya, Poland. This information is based on a
List of Persecuted.
Tipa Sherman was born in 1906 to Beynis. She was an employee. Prior
to WWII she lived in Druya, Poland. During the war she was in Druya,
Poland. Tipa perished in Druya, Poland. This information is based on a
List of Persecuted.
Khana Buzak was born in 1886 to Khaim Sherman. She was a teacher.
Prior to WWII she lived in Druya, Poland. During the war she was in
Druya, Poland. Khana perished in Druya, Poland. This information is
based on a List of Persecuted.
Bejla Srebrniak was born in Druja in 1910 to Khaim and Khana
Sherman. She was a housewife and married to Khaim. Prior to WWII she
lived in Druja, Poland. During the war she was in Druja, Poland. Bejla
perished in Druja, Poland. This information is based on a Page of
Testimony submitted on 27-Aug-1956 by her relative.
Chajim Srebrniak was born in Wilno in 1910. He was a merchant and
married to Bila. Prior to WWII he lived in Druja, Poland. During the
war he was in Druja, Poland. Chajim perished in Druja, Poland. This
information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted on 27-Aug-1956 by his relative.
Iosif Serebranik was born in 1895 to Abram. Prior to WWII he lived
in Druya, Poland. During the war he was in Druya, Poland. Iosif
perished in Druya, Poland. This information is based on a List of Persecuted
Sara Serebranik was born in 1898 to Khaim. She was a housewife.
Prior to WWII she lived in Druya, Poland. During the war she was in
Druya, Poland. Sara perished in Druya, Poland. This information is
based on a List of Persecuted
Iona Serebranik was born in 1937 to Iosif. Prior to WWII he lived in
Druya, Poland. During the war he was in Druya, Poland. Iona perished
in Druya, Poland. This information is based on a List of Persecuted.
Khaya Serebranik was born in 1939 to Iosif. Prior to WWII she lived
in Druya, Poland. During the war she was in Druya, Poland. Khaya
perished in Druya, Poland. This information is based on a List of
Lewinman, Eljahu (Elye-Ber)
Eljahu Lewinman was born in Druja in 1916 to Meir and Khaia. He was a bank clerk and single. Prior to WWII he lived in Druja, Poland. During the war he was in Druja, Poland. Eljahu perished in 1942 in Druja, Poland. This information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted on August 27, 1956 by his relative.
David Lewinman was born in Druja in 1895 to Meir and Khaia. He was a merchant and married to Frida nee Lurie (Frida Levinman was born in 1903 to Matvey Lurje) and had daughters; Briena and Sima. Prior to WWII he lived in Druja, Poland. During the war he was in Druja, Poland. David perished in 1942 in Druja, Poland. This information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted on August 27, 1956 by his relative Bat Sheva Vigdohouse.
Frida Levinman was born in 1903 to Matvey. She was a housewife. Prior to WWII she lived in Druya, Poland. During the war she was in Druya, Poland. Frida perished in Druya, Poland. This information is based on a List of Persecuted.
Brayna Levinman was born in 1928 to David. She was a student. Prior to WWII she lived in Druya, Poland. During the war she was in Druya, Poland. Brayna perished in Druya, Poland. This information is based on a List of Persecuted.
Sima Levinman was born in 1937 to David. Prior to WWII she lived in Druya, Poland. During the war she was in Druya, Poland. Sima perished in Druya, Poland. This information is based on a List of Persecuted.
Feyga Levinman was born in 1910 to Meer. She was a housewife. Prior to WWII she lived in Druya, Poland. During the war she was in Druya, Poland. Feyga perished in Druya, Poland. This information is based on a List of Persecuted.