...I was born in Dokshits into a family of five children and after I was eleven years old, my father died and our mother remained without any means of support.
I was sent to Vilna to my mother's sister to be with them and I went to school there a few years. When I was thirteen, I started learning a trade in order to support myself and also to help my family. One of my uncles had a bakery and I decided to go there and learn the trade and that's how I started earning a living and also sending it to my family.
In 1930 my oldest sister traveled to Israel, then Palestine, and after four years the whole family – my mother, two sisters and a brother traveled to Israel, and I was left alone because I was not allowed to leave because I was being recruited for the army. In 1948 my brother Arye, may he rest in peace, fell in the defense of Jerusalem in Latrun.
In 1939 when the Germans attacked Europe,our area became part of the Soviet Union.I moved to Ilya where my father's sister , Shyna Koplovitz, was, and there I lived inil June 1941 when the Germans entered Ilya and then started the trouble.
In our village were more than 1,000 Jews, several synagogues, Hebrew schools, private teachers of Cheders [traditional school for young children], Hebrew and Yiddish libraries, all sorts of parties, Zionist groups from Betar [right wing] to Shomer Hatzair [left wing]. There were skilled workers and all sorts of stores. The parents of my friend, with whom I escaped to the forest, had a flour mill.
They put us in the ghetto. Every day we had to present ourselves, like slaves, at the market at 6 a.m. and our services were chosen for all sorts of hard labor. We only received 300 grams of food for the day. Aside from that they would order us to bring them shoes, warm clothing, gold. If we didn't provide it by evening, the Germans took people and shot them.
One day the Gestapo came and gave us the order to leave the houses and report to the market place – men, women and children. I started running and by chance entered the bakery. There was a Russian POW who hid me in a hideout in the attic. The Jews were taken to the outskirts of town, where open ditches were prepared. They told everyone to undress and stood about ten men and women at a time, and machine gunned them all.
After the terrible slaughter I went out of the hideout and met Fajwe Solomianski (who changed his name to Shraga Dagani when he came to Israel). He too had escaped from the slaughter. We didn't know what to do, and decided to escape to the forest. We were roaming around without food, afraid to go to the farmers to ask for provisions. But we had no choice, so we started going to the property of farmers outside the village. In the village the dogs would start barking, and then they knew that there were Jews and would alert the Germans. The farmers would give us a piece of bread and a bottle of milk that would last us for a few days. We hid in a deep ditch in the woods and they couldn't find us.
That was how we were wandering for five months until deep into autumn. We realized that winter was coming and we were without a roof over our heads and without proper clothes. It was at that point that we met Safonov, a Russian lieutenant, who was captured by the Germans, but escaped from there and became active in the partisans. We too wanted to join the partisans because the winter of 1942 was coming and it was 40 degrees beyond zero. He was like an angel from heaven. He brought us warm clothes and sometimes bread. After a certain time he helped us to be accepted to the partisan unit. In the forest were several groups of Jews, who had fled from the massacres and were hiding in different places. He helped them too. These Jews could not approach the farmers themselves, because many of the farmers were collaborating with the Germans or were likely to kill the Jews themselves. He also organized the Jews to manufacture leather for shoes from the skin of slaughtered cows. And he took an old Jewish woman on the pretext that she was going to cook for him, and so saved her life. Safonov was also the angel for the Jews to whom he would bring potatoes, bread, and sometimes a piece of meat. He helped them clandestinely so that they would not die of hunger and of the frost. He also helped other Jews get accepted by the partisans in addition to us, because among the Russians there was no shortage of antisemites who didn’t want to accept the Jews into the partisans. They used to say that the Jews were cowardly and lazy, and that they only wished to hide behind the Christians' shoulders, and not fight.
After the war Safonov made a fence around the ditches where lay 600 Jews, and he forbade the Christians to have their horses and cows graze there. This year he also built a memorial with a Star of David….
Gennady Safonov, born 1913, was a Soviet army lieutenant. He was taken prisoner in the early days of the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, but managed to escape from captivity and eventually became one of the leaders of the partisan unit Narodnyye Mstiteli (People's Avengers) that operated in the Rudniki forests (south of Vilna).
Alongside his activity in the partisan movement, Safonov helped Jews escape from the ghettos in the area. Simcha Fogelman and Fajwe Solomianski (who changed his name to Shraga Dagani when he came to Israel) reported to Yad Vashem that Safonov had found them in the forest in November 1942. The two had escaped from the ghetto in Ilja when the Germans began liquidating it on 7 June 1942. They had been wandering in the forest for several months. Safonov brought them to his partisan unit and thus saved them from dying in the forests during winter.
Safonov also saved the life of an old woman Brajna Katz from Dolhinov. She had been with a group of Jews from Dolhinov who had escaped the German murder operations and found refuge in a partisan camp. In August 1942 Nikolai Kisilev, a Soviet partisan, was ordered to evacuate the elderly, the women and the children who had gathered in the partisans camp and to transfer them a couple of hundred Kilometers eastwards beyond the front lines. As they were setting out on the arduous journey, the Germans conducted a search and Brajna Katz was wounded in both legs. The seventy-year-old woman was unable to continue, and asked them to leave her behind. She survived in the forest for about a week when Safonov found her. He took her to a nearby village, and notwithstanding the protests of the villagers, who didn't want to care for an old Jewish woman, ordered them to nurse her until his return. Several weeks later he returned, and brought her to his partisan camp where she spent the rest of the war cooking for the partisans.
Generally speaking, the chances of survival of old people and children during the Holocaust were very slim. Safonov’s commitment to the old woman and her survival are therefore unique. After liberation Brajna Katz rode into Dolhinov with the liberating Soviet partisans. When her family returned from the east, they were astounded to see that the old woman had survived. In 1947 Brajna emigrated to Israel, and went to live with her daughter, who had left Dolhinov before the World War and who was living in Kubbutz Dafna in the north of the country. She died at very old age in 1966.
Sam Fogelman immigrated to the United States. His daughter Eva Fogelman is a well known researcher of the Righteous Among the Nations and rescue.
There is evidence that Safonov also helped other Jews who were hiding in dugouts in the forest by supplying them with food. His efforts were not always supported by the members of his unit. Some were hostile to the Jews, others believed that it was their duty to focus on fighting the Germans, and that helping Jews would slow them down. Safonov, however, was not deterred and continued to help the persecuted Jews. His commitment went beyond the war years. After liberation he settled in Wilejka and was active in creating a memorial to the Jewish victims in Ilja.
On 2 November 1992 Yad Vashem recognized Gennady Safonov as Righteous Among the Nations.