During the Slaughter,
in the Ghetto and in the Forests
By Bat Sheva nee Brunstein
Pages 339- 373Translated
by Eilat Gordin LevitanIn June 22nd, 1941, I was busy preparing for
a party of Pidion HaBen (a religious celebration for a son
who reaches a month in age) for my first born, Yehudah. All of a sudden,
my mother (Yente Brunstin) came running to the house and announced,
MY daughter, dont waste time cooking or baking. The Germans
declared war on the Soviet Union and they are quickly approaching the
town. Only God knows what will now happen to us.
As soon as my husband Jonah Riar, who worked in the town Molodetzno
at that point, found out about that situation, he left work and walked
home and arrived during the night. Instantly, as the invasion started,
the Germans swiftly advanced in Blitzkrieg as they named
it, the Russian Army was decimated and many of troops lost their units
as pandemonium spread The next morning our town was left without rulers.
The farmers who lived in town and the environs abused this condition,
and they immediately started looting and pillaging the town. Jewish
possessions became free for all. This fact seemed to point to the beginning
of the end, and ominously it foretold the future of the Jews.
Three days passed and during dusk, I stood with my husband Jonah and
looked out the window from our apartment. We started shaking from anxiety
seeing a German soldier riding on a motorcycle, behind him rode hundreds
and thousands of Germans in different vehicles. Some came in cars, others
riding motorcycles, others in tanks, trucks, armored cars, and all sorts
of transportation. Day and night the German vehicles rolled through
town, heading east without any stops. Within a week, the Germans put
a police headquarters in town, and their first mission was to arrest
all those who were suspected of involvement with the Communist Party.
The first among the Jews to be arrested were Zalman, son of David Chaikin
(nicknamed Zamka) and Baruch Zisman. Their arrests took place at four
in the afternoon, on June 28, 1941. Already the next morning they were
taken to the forest near the Haobichik and were ordered to dig a hole.
There they were shot and buried. When their wives, Fania Chaikin and
Leah Zisman, came to bring them food in the prison in the local Gmina,
they were notified by the guards that their husbands had been killed.
Clearly the women didnt believe them, and no one in town believed,
but it was true. To find out if this information was true, the families
paid large amounts of money to villagers who opened the graves during
the night, and cut some of the clothing of the murdered men, and brought
them as evidence of the tragic occurrence. The families paid large sums
of money and were able to bring the bodies of their husbands and sons
to a proper burial in the Jewish cemetery.
The members of the German police changed many times, but the pattern
of desecration seemed to be consistence. After a few days passed, an
order came that all Jews of the town must arrive every morning near
the headquarters, and from there they would be sent out to different
jobs such as cleaning the streets, the toilets, and other work such
as this. The German headquarters confiscated a few of the large Jewish
homes, and the house of my mother-in-law was amongst those homes. The
Germans now lived in the front, and in the back rooms lived the family
of my husband.
The German residents would enter the home of my -in-laws (Chaia- Pesia
and Noach Riar) and have a long conversation with my husbands
sisters; Yoheved (Shapira) and Taibe. They introduced themselves as
a caring German, and warned them that soon they would be replaced by
the SS, who would torture, kill, and burn all the Jews. They emphasized
that the bodies of torched Jews warmed them themselves, at certain times.
My sisters-in-law would tell me about these awful tales, but we couldnt
believe that such tortures were possible in our century.
At that point, we discussed it and said that no logical person could
consider that such tales could be a daily, systematic occurrence.
One time, after a night of drunken revelry at a dance party that lasted
until the morning hours, the Germans returned to the house of my in-laws.
One of the drunken German men, instead of going to his place, tried
to break into the area where my in-laws lived. Of course he found the
door locked, so he tried to break it in and the handle broke, hitting
him in the face. He became furious and started screaming wildly, saying
that he would kill all the males he could find in the apartment, because
it must be that they were trying to hurt him. When the males heard this,
they jumped out into the yard. When my sister-in-law opened the door,
the German jumped in and started looking for the men. Lucky for us they
had time to escape. The German could not calm down and he decided to
look in the next home, the home of Sheinke, where my husband and I were
When we heard the knock, I asked Jonah to open it, but his heart felt
something bad and he asked me to open it. When I opened to door, the
German soldier came in with his gun drown and screamed, If I find
one man in this house, he will immediately be shot.
My heart fell, but I tried to control my nerves. I knew that the fate
of my husband, who was hiding in the bed, depended upon my calm behavior.
I invited the soldier inside and sat on the bed, trying to hide my husband,
and quietly taking care of my little baby Yehudah, who was lying near
the bed. Since the German didnt seen Yonah, he left to the area
where Sheinke lived to look for men.
Her sister, Itka Alperovich, who lived on the other side of the wall,
heard everything and ran to the headquarters to call a German officer.
When the officer came, he told the soldier to get out of the house.
So now it was proved to us that the horror stories of the Germans were
Still, we tried to tell ourselves that it was just one incident, and
asked, Why would they kill us for no reason? It couldnt
As this unit was replaced, the next unit ordered us to establish the
Judenrat. A committee of the Judenrat had to work diligently in a job
that was very difficult and unpleasant, but the Jewish community understood
the difficulties they encountered. The Germans would order the Judenrat
to collect different taxes from the Jewish people and to supply swiftly
all the needs of the Germans, which kept increasing. The first order
was to confiscate all the cows. They were taken for the German Army
and that really hurt the poorest population, since the cows gave them
milk for survival. Next they ordered 400 bushels of wheat and 3000 meters
of carpeting. Clearly everything that they demanded they received, although
it was difficult to find these goods.
Together with those demands, the Germans told the Judenrat to bring
10kg of gold. It seemed like there was no end to their demands. Although
the members of the Judenrat knew that it was very difficult for the
Jewish community to fill the orders, they had no choice but to hurry
them along and urge them to do it. They were under the illusion that
this would save the lives of the community.
As the winter months approached, the Germans ordered the Judenrat to
collect all the warm clothes that the Jews had, and to give them to
the military. Fur coats, boots, warm blankets, wool socks and gloves.
After much tribulation, we were able to reach our quotas, and we tried
to believe that this would save us all. I believe that Germans succeeded
in making the Jewish population complacent by keeping them under the
illusion that they could stay alive as a prize for fulfilling all the
demands that were put on them. They were helped by the fact that in
the nearby towns, there were many massacres already in Radoshkovich,
Molodeczno, Vileyka, Kurenets, and Dolhinov. But here the Germans didnt
kill the Jews of Ilja other then the two during the summer.
Every Jewish survivor who arrived to town from a massacre in another
town was received happily and we shared our homes and our food with
them. So despite the fact that they would say we shouldnt have
illusions and that our fates had already been decided and it was only
a matter of a time, people refused to listen.
I remember a young man from nearby Pleshensitz who came to us after
the massacre there. He insisted that the Jews should prepare some dry
bread and escape to the forests. Only a few listened to him, but most
of the community said that he was insane. But then came the bitter day
and what we so feared occurred
On March 17, 1942 as dawn came we realized that the Gestapo had surrounded
the town. They started taking Jews out of their homes and herded them
into the central Market Square. Not one person left his home willingly.
The Germans and their local collaborators took the Jews out of their
homes by force. It took only about an hour and all of the Jews of the
town, old, women, and babies were in the central market, surrounded
by Germans with drawn weapons. I wont give details of that bitter
day. Even today I cannot bring myself to discuss that, but I will try
to tell about a few special moments that have left an eternal imprint
in my heart.
While we were standing there, surrounded by the Gestapo, waiting for
our deaths, a few of the police from the local population came to us
and announced, Jews, these are your last minutes on this earth.
Give us the gold and the money that you hid. Anyway, youll never
be able to use it.
Since the community had already given up, some started telling them
where they had left their possessions. Even my husband Jonah wanted
to give his knife, but I told him not to, since I thought they would
get mad that he was only giving them a knife. I remember that Hillel
Kopilovich told one of the Germans that in his house he had gold and
silver. The German took him out of the line and brought him to his home
to take the treasure, but Hillel really wanted to take his tallit and
fillim, and to try to trick the German. As soon as he took his tallit,
the German thought there was gold inside the cover of the tallit, and
he pulled it out of his hand and realized he had been lied to. He became
very cruel and started beating him until blood spilled everywhere. Hillel
returned all wounded and covered with blood. The German kept cursing
him, Cheating bloody Jew.
Even today I dont have the ability to describe that horrible feeling
we felt when the Germans started making a selection of who was to live
and who was to die. The Germans needed only small portions, about 20
families of skilled workers. Amongst them they chose my husband and
I, with our child Yehudah, to live.
The sight of torture will never leave my eyes. I saw my handsome, talented,
dear brother Yakov, his body was lifeless in the middle of the street.
Until today, the ripping calls of my little brother Elimelech ring in
my ears. He said to me with a heart-wrenching cry, But I am so
young, why do I have to die? Why do I have a death sentence?
The torturous image of barbaric sadism that was so thirsty for blood
forever stays with me. My husband sister, Yocheved Shapira, who
was selected to be killed, handed me her beautiful little daughter Henia,
with her golden curls, to be given to her sister Zipora (Korbynik) who
lived in Eretz Israel. But a German sharp eye discovered the transfer,
and with cold blood, he pulled the girl out of my arms, holding her
by her golden curls, and threw her with full force on the road and shattered
It was about 40 degrees Celsius below zero, and those condemned to death
stood frozen and in shock. Here and there were young people who tried
to organize rebelion to jump the killers and escape. They were told
by their parents not to do it, that maybe God would save us in the last
All of a sudden I heard the voice of my mother in law, who called my
husband Jonah to not forget to pray Kaddish for them so that their souls
would go to heaven. Surrounded on all sides, the Jews of Ilja were taken
on their last walk, their final steps
. Many walked apathetically,
as if they were lambs in the slaughter. Many wore their tallits. They
were pushed into the icehouse, which was situated in an empty lot near
the house of Veinus. The machine guns shot at them as they were walking
in. All the doors were then locked, and the building was set on fire.
The sounds of Shema Israel, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai HaEhad
kept coming from inside it until everything became quiet and all became
Picture 1. The Brunstein family
Standing from left; brother Ytzhak who came to Argentina before the
war. The author, Bat- Sheva. Brother Yaakov who perished on. March 17,
Sitting; parents; Yudel who died before the war and Yente who perished
on March 17, 1942. The young Elimelech (melech) Brunstein who perished
on. March 17, 1942 is at the bottom
Picture 2 the Brunstein brothers who went to Argentina; on the right,
Binyamin whom when the book was written lived in Argentina and Baruch
who died in Argentina at a young age.
The ones who were sentenced
to live were locked in the barn of Tartavich until the killers finished
their destruction of all the Jews in the town and burning their homes.
We were freed only at night. We settled in a few houses across from
the big synagogue. The houses we settled in started from Sarah Racha
Sinders home (mother of Melech and Wolf), and ended in the house
of Baruch Levin. Surrounding these homes there was barbed wire and this
was a temporary ghetto for the few survivors.
The next morning, Zusman Gitlitz and my husband were ordered to collect
the bodies of the Jews that had been shot near their homes or in their
hiding places. My father-in-law, Noach Riar, was able to hide during
the massacre and survive. I asked him to live with us. He asked me to
go with him to his home to take something. I refused and said to him,
Only yesterday you were able to escape death and now you are already
trying to risk your life? I will not go with you. My heart told
me that something bad would happen, but my father-in-law was very stubborn
and insisted that he should go. The son of his sister, the young boy
Itzhak Alperovich, felt pity for him and joined him. They went to the
house and opened the door. A Gestapo man came by, and he shot and killed
them on the spot.
My husband Jonah and Zusman Gitlitz, who collected the bodies, happened
to pass by at that moment across the house. They received orders from
that Gestapo man to take the two additional bodies. Jonah who was dismayed
to see the body of his father refused to work for them any longer. For
that he paid dearly. The Gestapo man beat him mercilessly, and he was
wounded badly. Blood spread everywhere, and he had to lie in bed for
several days until his wounds healed.
A few days passed and my husband Jonah was transferred to the Vileyka
Ghetto Camp for work, and at this point, my son and I were still in
the Ilja Ghetto. I very much wanted to join my husband, but it was very
difficult to even get in touch with my husband. Since Jews were not
allowed to send mail, I had to illegally transfer notes to him by local
people who went to Vileyka. But at this point there was no way to receive
permission to join him.
Life in the Ilja ghetto continued, but now there were no illusions about
our fate. Most of the people knew that their days were numbered. In
order for them to survive, they started organizing groups to build bunkers
and hideouts, but no one wanted to have me join, fearing that my baby
would cry and the hideout would be discovered. My soul was very bitter
and I cried continuously. When the holy day of Shavuot came, finally
the miracle that I so hoped for occurred. All of a sudden, there was
an announcement in the Ilja police to have Rishka Epstein Yankel
Sheinas and I with my baby to be taken out for transportation
to Vileyka. So finally, during the holy day, we joined our husbands.
It didnt take long, and the rest of the Jews in the Ilja Ghetto
were massacred. Although most of them hid in their bunkers and hideouts,
they were all caught. A few tried to escape, but they were shot while
running. Only three people succeeded in reaching the forest: Shraga
Solominsky, my husband cousin, Chaim Riar, and David Rubin. Shraga
Solominsky and David Rubin joined the partisans and after the war came
with us to Israel. Chaim Riar who also joined the partisans, was killed
during a partisan mission near the village Olkovitz. It seemed that
once again the hand of fate decided in the last minute to give us (my
child and I ) a reprieve and let us survive.
Life in the Ghetto of Vileyka was unbearable. The women had to harness
themselves instead of horses, and to pull firewood. They also had to
clear the snow from the streets, to clean the toilets, and other work.
After a while they divided the population into two camps. The professional
men who were under Commissar Schmidt and the women under the Jew from
After half a year, the womens ghetto was liquidated and most of
them were killed, and then arguments started in our ghetto about escaping
to the forest. I was all for escape, but my husband Jonah said that
our baby would never survive life in the forest. I answered that its
better he die from starvation or from freezing than that we should all
be killed here by the Germans.
Meanwhile, the idea of escaping became more and more favored by the
Jews in Vileyka, so we started preparing for life in the forest. First
we wanted to collect weapons and ammunition for the partisans. As the
contact between the Ghetto and the partisans and other Jews in the forest
increased, there was a Christian farmer who would bring wood for the
German Commissar. This Christian man brought regards from the Jews who
lived in the forest. The husband (Yerachmiel Shapira) of my sister-in-law
Yoheved, who perished in the first massacre in Ilja, was amongst the
Jews who hid in the forest. He would send us notes via the Christian
farmer demanding that we should join him. The partisans demanded that
we should transfer bullets and ammunition. The head of the camp/ghetto,
Schatz, a Jewish guy originally from Austria, arranged for weapons.
Some were stolen from the Germans and some were bought. We took anything
During the winter of 1943, a few days before the holy day of Purim,
something unexpected occurred that made us run to the forest before
the planned time. The farmer who was our contact with the partisans
came to the ghetto to transfer the bullets that we would hide in a hollowed
out piece of wood, which had been specially made. After the wood was
put in his wagon, it seemed like the police needed his wagon, so one
Gestapo man came and took the wagon from the farmer. When the Jews in
the ghetto found out about it, they assumed that the police realized
that we had been transferring weapons, and now they were going to get
their revenge, so we fled unorganized.
My husband Jonah took his yellow star off and walked out of the ghetto
and out of the town in quick steps. I also took off the yellow tag and
started walking through the main street of Vileyka, carrying my little
son Yehudah. So like this we walked. First Jonah, and I many steps behind
him. When we arrived to the outside edges of the town, he disappeared,
and while I was looking for him, I encountered German soldiers who were
training. I knew that I had no choice and that I could not retreat,
so I walked confidently forward, resolved to walk straight, although
I didnt even know where I was walking. So like this I passed by
the German soldiers, and they didnt seem to suspect at all that
I was Jewish.
I couldnt find my husband, but I remember that in one of my conversations
we decided that if we got lost, each one of us should try to reach Hatzentzitz.
So now this became my goal. I found myself by the public slaughterhouse
and the burned bridge on the river Vilja. I reached a small house near
the slaughterhouse. I entered the door and told the Christian owner
that I was a Jew. I continued saying, Now they are murdering us,
but I prefer to be killed while escaping.
The Christian man looked at me and said, Too bad. You are still
a young woman and you might bring something useful to this world.
He told me to wait there until nighttime, and then he would help me
cross the frozen river. So he did that and blessed me with good luck.
So now I was across the other side of the river. This was a dark, wintry
night. I was in an unfamiliar surrounding, with a baby in my arms. The
first thing I tried was to enter the forest and get lost deep in it.
This was the first time in my life where I was in a wintry night alone
in a forest. As I was getting deeper and deeper, I saw from afar, blinking
lights. I kept walking until I reached a small house. Without considering
the danger, I knocked on the door and entered. I put the baby on the
bench near the entrance and asked the owner to let me rest. The owner
gave my baby a little milk and he gave me some food. Only then did he
ask me, Who are you? Where are you going in such bad weather?
I didnt lie to him nor did I try to avoid answering. I said that
I was escaping from the Germans. They let me rest and sleep there, but
the next morning they asked me to leave. I thanked the owner for his
kindness, and said that I was not planning on staying there anyway,
and that I planned to reach Hatzentzitz. I asked how I should continue
without encountering the Germans. He said that if I continued a certain
way, in his estimation I should reach my goal. It only took ten minutes
after I left the house and reached the main road. I felt behind me that
there was a German police. I was too fearful to go right or left to
return to the forest, which might make them suspicious, so I kept moving
forward quickly. I had one hope in my heart, that there would be a house
near the road so I could go there until they passed. Finally I reached
the house, but the owner of the home refused to let me enter. She said
that the Germans were in the town. I begged her with eyes filled with
tears and implored her to at least take my baby. It seemed like I succeeded
in getting some pity from her. She motioned to me to walk behind her,
and she took me to the pig sty. After hiding there for a few hours,
she returned and told me that the Germans had come and asked if there
were any Jews in the village, and then they left.
Her story made me feel confident enough to ask her where I could meet
with the partisans without using the main road where there were many
Germans. Surprisingly, she was very kind. Her husband brought me past
the village along a side road, and instructed me in how to reach the
village Phozba. He thought I could meet with the partisans. Finally,
I started believing that I was on the right road, but as you will find
out, I still had to go through the seven levels of Gehennam.
I reached the village Phozba in the afternoon. I entered the first home
and asked if I could get some hot water for my child. They inquired
about where I had come from. I didnt tell the truth, but my accent
told that I was Jewish. Despite the fact that this village was a large
one, immediately there was a rumor that a Jewish woman with a baby in
her arms had come looking for help, and all the residents of that village
were warned by one another to not help me.
Night came and I was hungry and thirsty and frozen. I walked with my
child who slept in my arms, and I cried. I didnt know where I
was going. Was I going in the direction of the partisans or directly
into the arms of the Germans? All of a sudden, a door of a small home
opened, and at the entrance stood an old farm-woman. She asked me why
I did not ask her for help. I said, Because here there are only
mean people. Not one of the people I asked for help let me enter his
The farm woman said to me, My daughter, the war is not over yet,
and who knows what our own fate will be?
When she finished her sentence, she opened the door wide and asked me
to enter. She prepared warm meals for my son and I. She changed our
wet clothes and gave us some dry clothing, and then asked who I was
and what was my wish. I told her the entire truth, that I was looking
for partisans since my husband joined them. Now I am trying to save
I was wondering if my husband was really able to survive this difficult
road? Was he sitting there patiently waiting for me? I went to sleep,
and at one point the farm woman woke me up, saying that soon the partisans
would arrive. While we were waiting, a Christian woman from Vileyka
came by and told the homeowner that she saw many bodies of Jewish women
and children lying in the streets of Vileyka, and they also found many
men who were killed in the forest. This news made me feel horrible,
but I couldnt think too much about it as the homeowner said, Lets
leave your baby here, and I will take you to the forest, and together
we will join the partisans.
It seemed like my hopes were coming true. As I met the first partisans,
I told them the entire truth, and when they asked what it is that I
wanted, I asked them to take me to Hatzaetzitzn. They didnt refuse
but they said I had to wait four days, since now they were on their
way to destroy a train. I refused to wait four days, but they said,
Do as you wish and they left.
I stayed with my hostess for another night. At three in the morning,
another group of partisans arrived. I asked them what I should do. When
they asked, Why do you have to go to Hatzetzitzin? I told
them that it was where I had made tentative plans with my husband, who
was somewhere with the partisans. They told me all the villages that
I should go through to reach my destination.
Since there were many attacks by the partisans, the Germans kept guard
in most of the villages that I was to go through, but it seemed like
the partisans didnt know about it at that point. Since I took
out-of-the-way roads, the first village that I reached had a river that
I had to cross to reach it. I didnt know what to do to overcome
this obstacle, and I decided to throw the baby like a ball to the other
side of the river, and I would cross it by swimming. With resolution
I did it.
I crossed the river by swimming and reached my son who was lying on
the ground, wounded and bloody. As a result, my child stopped talking
and had a strange look in his eye that yelled, Mother, what did
you do to me? I took my kerchief and wet it with the rivers
water and washed his face. I put it on his wounds, but blood continued
to gush. We were wet and frozen and hungry, but I didnt lose my
resolve. When I entered the village, I entered the first home and the
homeowner asked me what happened to my child. I cried hysterically as
a result, but didnt answer her at to what had happen. So she put
some bandages on his wounds and gave us some food, and we continued.
The next village was near the town Viyazin, and I could see it from
afar. I walked fast and determined, knowing that once I reached it I
could rest from the long road and enable my baby to rest . I entered
the first home but as soon as I opened the door, I was in shock. All
the blood came to my face and my heart raced. In front of me stood a
Christian man who I knew. He had been a regular customer in our store
and knew my parents by their first names, and also me. But I stopped
myself and pretended to be calm and said in Polish, Good morning.
Later on I found out that he also pretended and said to me, Who
are you and where did you come from?
I said that I came from Vilkiluki, and that the Germans entered and
everyone escaped. And now I am on the way to Shtakovotizhna, near Hatzenzeitz,
where I am going to work in agriculture. The farmer said, Its
very interesting but I know someone in Ilja who looks so much like you,
like a mirror image of you. That woman is the daughter of Yudel and
I pretended to be naïve, Where is Ilja?
But since I wanted to change the subject, I asked him if I could have
the baby rest here. Unwillingly the farmer let me change the subject.
Finally with emphasis he said, Since you look so much like the
daughter of my acquaintances, I will let you eat and rest, and even
I lay down but I couldnt sleep at all. I kept thinking, Should
I tell him the truth and disclose that I am Jewish or should I act like
I knew nothing of what he was saying?
Early in the morning I heard the farmer and his wife whispering about
the strange resemblance between the daughter of Yente Brunstein and
I. I decided to tell the truth, and the farmer thanked me for being
honest. He said, Even if you didnt tell me, I would show
you the road, but surely you would fall into the hands of the Germans.
But since I am thankful to you parents for some good deeds that they
did for me, I will take you to another road that goes through the partisan
I took that road safely and arrived to the village Kozli. Here I was
lucky once more. When I reached the outskirts of the village, I encountered
children playing. When I asked them if I could cross the river, they
said yes but they emphasized it was not a good idea now since the Germans
had entered the town.
This made me very upset, but I didnt think much. Immediately I
went back and hid deep in the forest, staying there until dark. As dark
came, I decided to go to the other side of the river, and if I couldnt,
I preferred to drown than to continue a life with no chance of survival.
I didnt want to enter any homes in this village, since even before
the war I knew that they hated Jews. Many of them were murderers and
thieves, and this was the first village that did pogroms when the Germans
entered, and they started the pillaging and looting from the Jews.
When I reached the shore of the river with my son in my arms, I encountered
two villagers in a boat. I greeted them with good evening and asked
them to transfer me to the other side of the river. They asked me who
I was and asked me where I was going. Once again I repeated the old
tune, saying I was a refugee from Vileyki Loki going off to find work.
They invited me to sit in the boat, and in a few minutes I was on the
I thanked them with tears in my eyes and in my imagination I saw myself
in Hatzentzin, but it wasnt so simple and easy. When I asked the
villagers to show me the direction, they showed me the right directions
but I was so excited and confused that I walked in the wrong direction,
going back in the direction of Ilja.
Only when I reached the village Zaborya with the light of the bright
moon did I see the cross on the Catholic Church that I started questioning
the directions. In the crossroad of the main road of Zaborya I encountered
a farmer who told me I was only a few kilometers from my town Ilja.
I thanked him for this information and continued, but as soon as he
disappeared, I turned around and ran into the forest. I ran all the
time through the forest, to a certain direction but I didnt know
where I was. I became all drenched and filled with sweat, and after
I couldnt walk anymore, I sat and rested. My dress became frozen,
my teeth were chattering, but lucky for me the child slept through the
entire time. Maybe the clear air caused this.
I rested a little bit before continuing on my way. My frozen dress kept
making noise while I was walking, and in my imagination the noise became
like the sounds of bullets being shot at me, but I continued my walk
resolutely. Many times I prayed that a wild animal would kill me, or
that even a German would get me. But I encountered no one. Since I walked
for such a long time, it seemed to me that the road had no ending. I
was so tired that I kept falling. Finally I just sat on the snow and
fell asleep until morning came.
I woke up to the sounds of dogs barking from afar and decided to go
in that direction. Every time the dog barked, I got up and walked. When
he stopped, I rested. Finally I reached a farm house. It seemed that
the farmers were still asleep. I knocked on the door. The owner came
and asked me what I wanted. I asked if I could rest there, and he went
back in the house and asked his wife what he should do. He said to her
that there was a woman with a baby in her arms and that she asked to
rest. His wife agreed.
As I entered, the couple started asking me questions. I said, Forgive
me, but I am so tired that I cant answer you. I lay on the
ground, which was made of clay, and I lay down with my son and fell
I dont know how long I slept, but when the owners woke me up,
it was already dusk. The winter sun sent its last rays through the windows,
some of which had no glass. The owners of the home gave me food and
asked me the usual questions, Where are you coming from? Where
are you going?
I was already desperate and the hope of meeting with my husband, which
kept me overcoming the obstacles, was almost gone. In many ways, I lost
my will to survive, without hesitation, I told them openly of my situation
and said, You can give me to the Germans to be killed, and
I really meant it because I could not continue like this.
The farmer understood me and said kind words, Dont worry,
youve finally reached the partisan area. You are now in the village
Huta. Last night, there were to Jewish partisans here, Solominsky and
Riar from Ilja.
When I heard the name Riar, I was so excited that my eyes started to
fill with tears. I thought he was talking about my husband Jonah, but
later I found out he was talking about his cousin Chaim, but still my
spirits were lifted. Meanwhile, night came and I decided to continue
towards Hatsetzin. Maybe I could encounter some Jews amongst the partisans
and find some information about my husband.
The villager who walked with me said, You can continue without
fear. Here you will encounter no Germans.
I continued utnil I saw a flickering light and I decided to go there.
It was a small ranch, Bartizky. I entered the home without waiting for
them to let me in. I found a place to sit, and they asked me once again,
Where are you from? Where are you going?
When I answered I was from Ilja, they didnt hide their feelings,
and with surprising openness they said they did not feel any pity for
the perished Jews from Ilja. They only felt pity for the Riar family.
When I said to them that I was a member of the Riar family, they didnt
believe me and said, We know all the family members.
I explained to them that I was the wife of Jonah. When I said his name
it seemed they were really happy. They gave me new clothes for my son
and good food. Since I was in a hurry to continue, they suggested I
should go to the village Starinski, that was located near Hatzentzitz.
I took my son in my arms and with renewed confidence walked in the direction
of the village Starinski. Although it was in full light, fear left me
entirely. I reached the village in the evening and was immediately stopped
by a partisan who brought me to the headquarters in the village.
The interrogator asked me many questions, and I answered them honestly.
Shoot her, he said, Shes a spy. How could it
be that young men who tried to escape from Vileyka were killed, while
she with a baby in her arms is here while the road is filled with German
soldiers? This is unbelievable.
All my explanations were not accepted. They asked me where I intended
to go, so I told them I was looking for my husband, who I thought
was in the area of Hatzentzsitz.
Meanwhile, many of the villagers came to look at me, the Jewish spy.
One of them asked me who I was, and I said I was from Ilja, and the
daughter of Yente Brunstein. The Christian man made the cross and asked
the interrogator not to shoot me, since he knew my parents and even
knew my grandmother and I couldnt be a spy. But still the investigators
did not listen to me.
I said loudly, Never mind. Your bullet is also a bullet, but still
it would be easier to die with your bullets than from a Germans
This made the interrogator think. He asked one of the Christian men
to bring some of the Jews from Hatzentzitsz . If they recognized
you, you would be believed.
The Christian men brought some Jews, and I didnt recognize them,
but when they started talking I recognized the voice of Chaim Yosef.
I said loudly, Chaim Yosef! but he didnt recognize
me. He knew my mother Yente; everyone knew her, but they didnt
know me. In spite of this, the interrogator released me and told them
to take me with them, but the Jews didnt want me to join them
since they didnt want to take care of me and my baby and supply
us with food. I promised them that I would not be a burden to them,
that I only wanted them to take me out of there. Finally, Elka who came
from Minsk and who lived here with Shimshon from Hatzentsitz, agreed
to take me with them. She carried the child in her arms and we all entered
the bunker. In the middle of the forest, in the ground, they dug trenches
and covered them and camouflaged them, and thats where they lived.
When I first entered the trenches, I couldnt see anything, but
slowly my eyes got used to it, and I could see that this was a trench
of about 10 meters long, and about a meter and a half wide. The walls
were made of pine trees, and they separated us from the ground. On the
two sides of the long wall, there were beds made of branches of trees
so only one person at a time could pass through the width of the trench.
Before we came there, there were 19 people living there, so now with
my son and I there were 21 souls in a very crowded condition, without
sufficient air or water. There was no chance of washing clothes and
barely any places to wash, so it wasnt a surprise that this was
an ideal place for lice, which were everywhere. Their survival depended
on going to the nearby villages and begging for food. When we returned
from such difficult workdays to beg for food, which would be a piece
of bread and once in a while potatoes, we divided our time for our second
duty, which was to get rid of the lice. Each one would hold lucgyna,
a burning piece of wood. We would take our clothes and get rid of the
lice. When this chore was finished, dinner would be made without washing
our hands. In one of the corners of this trench, there was some sort
of oven where they cooked the meals when they had something to cook.
My first meal I was invited by Chana the wife of Shimon. It was some
kind of vegetable without any salt or oil or fat. I couldnt eat
it, and even my son couldnt eat it. They gave us a place to sleep
and since I Was so tired from my long journey I slept well.
In the morning, I woke up happy thinking that soon I would meet my husband.
Chana gave me breakfast that contained four potatoes, two for me and
two for my son, and we ate it with a great appetite. I tried to befriend
everyone here, but I felt especially close to Elka from Minsk. She seemed
to understand me much better than the others. I told her how I feared
for the fate of my husband. Many times I would talk to my little son,
I would ask him whether is father were alive, and he would shake his
A few days passed and I asked my friend Elka, How do you get the
She told me that they begged the villagers. I started shaking. How could
I do that? I didnt even know the roads. But the will to survive
was stronger than my shame and my fear; after four days my friend Elka
gave me a backpack and said, For the first time, we will go together,
and this will make it easier for you spiritually. Eventually you will
get used to it.
The sense of starvation at that moment eliminated all the shame. I left
my baby with the other people in the bunker, and together with Elka,
we went on our way.
When we arrived at the first village, she told me to go to the first
house and ask for a piece of bread. I entered the house but when the
woman asked me what I wanted, I became red and then white and I could
hardly say the sentence, A piece of bread. Immediately I
started crying hysterically. The farm woman understood I was new in
this profession and said, It must be your first time
but you will get used to it.
When I heard her I became even more distraught and cried even louder.
She gave me half a loaf of bread. I lowered my eyes and left her home
broken. Elka waited for me. When I encountered her, I cried again but
she had nothing to say other than, You will get used to it.
She suggested we go to a few more homes, but I refused. I asked her
to take me home since I was fearful that I would not be able to find
When we returned, I gave a piece of bread for my son, and the rest I
hid as if it was a most valuable treasure. When the bread was finished
after four days, and again I felt the pangs of hunger, I left with my
neighbor in the bunker, Segal, to another village. He went to one area
and I went to another, and we received potatoes, and a few pieces of
bread. When I returned, my neighbor Chana said my son was scratching
and suggested that I should see if he had any lice. I insisted that
this could not be, but the child was restless and crying. I didnt
know what was wrong since he could not speak, so I decided to check
him, and when I looked, my eyes darkened. The child was filled with
lice. I tried to clean the dirt as much as I could. From then on I knew
that when my child was crying I should check his clothing.
Since our daily condition was very difficult, and the shame of receiving
food was so strong, I trained my young son to not ask for food supplies
from other people. Like this our life continued for a few more months.
After some time, Jews arrived to the forest. They were the survivors
who had escaped from the Krasne ghetto in the last minute before it
was liquidated. Amongst them was Mulik Dubrovski from Molodechno, his
wife Shulamit, Bela Kaminski, and others.
Meanwhile, spring arrived and all the neighbors who lived with me decided
to go to other areas since most of the villagers in the area knew the
exact location of our bunker, and there was a chance that one of them
would inform the Germans. To my sorrow, none of the people wanted me
to join them. They didnt want a small child whose cries would
give up the location of the hideout. I thought that maybe I should stay
there by myself, but who would take care of the baby when I was out
looking for food? I cried to my friend Elka and said, All of you
have difficult times, but my situation is much harder with a little
baby. Its not the starvation that I fear, its the loneliness
that I would feel.
Elka said she was very sorry that she could not help me because she
also needed the help of others. And this was true. A family that she
didnt know before helped her.
First left the family of Shimon from Hatzentsitz, and then the family
of Shimon from Zahuta, and Chaim Yosef from Hatzentzitz and his household,
and for the time, only the family of Levin from Radishkovich stayed,
but they were already preparing a new place, and that meant I would
stay alone. This made me feel awful, and I had to plan what I should
I realized that there were some villages in the area that my parents
had many dealings with, so I suggested to Chaim that we can go to a
more distant village where I knew the people and they would give us
food for a week. He looked at me as if I was crazy, but I didnt
stop asking him. The reason I asked him was double. First I wanted to
gather a large amount of food, but I also wanted to show them that I
was useful so that they would let me join them, since they also had
a small child.
Finally, Chaim and Isaac Levin left with me in the morning on the way
to Krabiaki, where I knew most of the farmers. When we arrived, Chaim
and Isaac realized that all the villagers there knew me and were helpful.
They gave us large food supplies that contained bread, eggs, milk and
potatoes, and in this time it was a huge gift. Now I felt that they
would let me stay with them. When we arrived, we divided the food, and
I received enough food to last for a few weeks, but what I feared for
came. One day Chaim notified me that his family would transfer and they
would not let me join. I said that I would not stay there by myself
for even one minute, and that I would leave and God would be with me.
When he saw I would be very stubborn about it, he agreed to let me join,
and I took my son and carried the food in my backpack. We started wandering
from one location to another. We met many other villagers who were wandering,
and we asked them why they were wandering since they were not Jews.
They said that the Germans had a blockade in the village in the forest,
and that they were looking for Jews and Partisans, and they shot whoever
We started walking east, but in a few days we started to hear the sounds
of machine guns and planes, and we changed directions according to the
sound. After a few days, we encountered all the families that we met
before. Yosef from Hatzemsitz knew the roads in the forest very well,
and he walked ahead. Even the non-Jewish villagers accepted him as the
leader without questioning. Amongst the Jews I met Mulik Dubrovski from
Molodechno. I also met Shulamit and his first wife Batya. I dont
know why, but Batya who I so wanted to befriend did not befriend me.
She did not want me to join them, and she would chase me with a stick.
Clearly I did not pay attention to her and walked behind them from a
certain distance. During some of the time when we could not receive
any food from the villagers, the men were able to steal some food, but
I couldnt do it, since I carried my son on my back. So our stomachs
became enlarged from starvation. Despite the fact that the child was
practically starving, he didnt cry. This was the time of the blockade
and we were in great danger, so it seemed that he felt the tension.
At one point, the wife of Zalman gave me a few leftovers from a porridge
that she had made. My son and I started fighting over the food, competing
for the small scraps.
During the blockade, thousands of villagers had their farms set on fire.
Many escaped to the forest, which was now crowded with people. As the
Nazis retreated, people started returning to the west. At first I didnt
know whom to join since no one wanted me, but finally Mulik Dubrovski
and Shulamit felt sorry for me and asked me to join them. We went to
the area of Pravehs marhses and there we encountered many Jews
from Horodok, Krasne, Volozhin and hatzentzitz I became very good friends
with Mulik and Shulamit. They were a very nice couple. Everyone who
encountered them would be charmed. They were kind and loyal friends.
Whenever Shulamit received food, the first thing she would was to go
to my sun Yehudah to share the food with him, so now my condition improved
a lot. I had someone to share my worries and fears, and when I had to
leave to get food, Shulamit would take care of my son and I knew she
would do her utmost for him.
When I passed through a village, Mishitz, I encountered the partisan
Moshe Eliezer from Nyaka, who was an old friend of my husband. I told
him my situation, and he asked me where I could meet him again. He promised
to come to see me and he told me that I should not be a beggar anymore.
The next day he came with a wagon which had a sack full of potatoes
and loaves of bread and a lamb, and clothes for my son and others. Do
you know what a treasure it was? Now everyone tried to befriend me since
I had such variety of food. Truly the food didnt last very long,
but this was a good period in which I didnt have to worry for
my son. I stayed constantly in the house, but finally I had to return
to begging since the food was finished. In the place where we were located,
all the villages around were very poor so the villagers didnt
have enough for themselves, so we had to go far to find food. We were
in the area of Kramnitz, in a beautiful dry forest on a hill, but to
reach the forest was very difficult. You had to go through mud which
reached all the way to your waist. And we had to go through that every
time we wanted to reach a village.
When we walked through the mud, no one would help. Each one wanted to
get out of there as soon as possible, so this situation prevented me
from begging for food too often. So as a result of it, I limited the
amount of food that my son and I would eat. Each would get only two
potatoes a day. Sometimes my son would demand another potato. I would
beat him when he kept demanding. One time, I became so crazy that I
pulled him by his hair and wanted to kill him.
In the summer there was much rain and we rotted from the wetness. We
were not able to build an adequate shelter since in our group no one
knew how to cut wood and build housing. So we just hid under the trees.
It seemed that everyones legs became swollen and our tattered
clothes were filled with lice. In all the forests there were Jews from
different towns. Some of them knew how to take care of themselves. For
example the Jews of Horodok were very well equipped. They knew how to
use an axe and saw. They were able to get a supply of nails, and they
built themselves huts. They would cut trees and make campfires where
they dried clothes and killed the lice, and also to keep warm. They
were very tough and didnt let others enjoy their privileged conditions.
I was particularly disliked by them since there was one family who had
choked their babies with their own hands before their escape from the
ghetto, and when they saw me fighting for the life of my child, they
felt guilt, remorse and envy.
Another family from Horodok who were known as the cold- smiths
had a son that was a member of Hanochem partisan brigade.
He came to visit his parents and I told him about my husband, who I
still hadnt found. He said that he was together with Chaim Riar
and that he would give him a letter from me. I wrote Chaim a note telling
him about my situation and asked him to arrange for a place for me near
him. When the Horodoker returned to his unit, he didnt have time
to give the note to Chaim since he was immediately sent on a mission,
but he gave it to a Christian man in the unit and asked him to give
it to Riar.
Strange fate: this Christian man was sent that day to the headquarters
of another partisan unit; The Fighter. He found out that
there was a person by the name of Riar in this unit, so he gave him
my note. When my husband Jonah read the note, he was in shock, until
this point he did not know what had happened to me. Now he recognized
I kept visiting the smith
from Horodok, the father of the partisan to whom I gave the letter,
but he didnt receive any information from his son. All my thoughts
were with the note I sent to chaim, but I had to continue with going
to the villages, begging for food. Once when I went to a village, I
heard loud shots that came from nearby, and I encountered some Jews
running away to the east. When I asked what happened, they said that
it seemed like the Germans had found the location of our camp and they
were bombing the area. At that point I had a big sack filled with food
that I was carrying, and this slowed my retreat, but as soon as I heard
what they said, I ran home since I had left my son with some neighbors.
I had a big dilemma. Should I throw away the heavy load? But how can
I let go of such treasure during days of starvation? So I threw away
my heavy boots instead and ran barefoot.
The neighbors were waiting for me impatiently. They asked that I not
join them. Everyone was against it, fearing that my child would reveal
their escape route by crying. I was devastated and decided to just stay
in the area no matter what. So for a few days I stayed there all-alone
with my son, and we had plenty of food, and I was in apathetic spirits
about being found by the Germans, but once again I was lucky. After
a few days of relative peace, the neighbors returned to the area.
My spirit kept giving me hope that my letter would reach the appropriate
people. One evening I heard someone yelling, Bat Sheva! Bat Sheva!
I was fearful once again that there was a blockade, but when I came
near, I heard someone saying, Bat Sheva, your husband arrived!
My heart shook, but my brain did not understand. Could it be? Is the
period of loneliness and being chased finally over? Jonah went to me
and held me in his arms and took Yehudah and didnt let us go.
Even now I cannot describe the excitement of the meeting, but one thing
I am sure: even the trees of the forest cried with us.
The next day, we left for Kramnitz. Jonah came with a carriage with
another partisan, so now we didnt have to walk anymore. It took
two days and then we arrived to the base of his brigade, Halochem.
Now we were in much better conditions. We lived in a hut and we had
a sufficient amount of food and in the condition of being a partisan
in the forest, could anyone wish for more than that? Now the main problem
that I faced was how to get rid of the lice, which was not an easy proposition
in the condition of constant travel. Finally, Jonah received permission
to take me to a village where they had a bathhouse, and there we were
able to get rid of the lice. It was as if my son and I were newly born.
But life seems not as simple, since after many months of practically
starving, now that I ate regularly I would become sick, but after a
short time I recovered. After a short time, Jonah was sent on some missions
in derailing a trains in the Vileyka area. I stayed with his unit. From
then on, I had everything needed. As time passed, many parents and wives
of the partisans came to the area, and they built a camp of huts especially
for the family members.
The location was a pretty long distance from the headquarters of the
brigade. I lived together with two other families and became good friend
Two partisans were assigned to our camp to provide us with food. Our
clothes became tattered in time. Since there were concerns about the
sanitary conditions, the partisans built a primitive bathhouse in the
area. The camp also had 11 cows that we took turn in taking out to pasture.
When my turn came, I explained to everyone that I had never done anything
like this and I preferred to do any hard job other than this one. But
people stubbornly said that I must take the cows so I had no choice
but to go. What I feared came true: I didnt know how to control
the cows, and they entered fields that had vegetables and wheat and
caused much damage. The local farmers started cursing me, saying, She
must be a Jew. Our people know how to herd cows without causing damage.
I listened without responding since I knew that they were right.
At that point, a partisan unit walked by. There was a Jew among them,
and when he heard them curse a bloody Jew, he came to me and asked me
if I am really a Jew. When I said yes, he helped me gather the cows
and the herd and bring it back to the camp.
I returned to the head of the camp Piotr Iskovitch and said to him,
I returned the cows. I dont want milk for my child, and
I refuse to herd since I dont know how to do it.
What kind of a Communist are you? How could you not know how to
herd cattle? He was a longtime communist and it seemed that he
didnt particularly like Jews. Still, being the one Jew among 70
Christian people here, it was at time better than being with Jews. I
got along well with them.
When Piotr Iskovitch asked me, What was the occupation of your
parents? I answered that my father was a shoemaker and my mother
was a seamstress, and my husband was a locksmith. This proved that I
came from a pure proletariat background, and I was better accepted by
Originally, the partisans who took care of us and supplied food for
the camp were Robitsky and Lewinsky. When they were replaced, the two
guys who came said that during the attack on the train from Vileyka,
a few partisans were killed. I was very fearful and immediately asked
the fate of Jonah, but I didnt want to ask directly, so I said,
What happened to the partisan troop that came from here?
He said, The luck of a Jew. There was only one of them who we
took out on the mission, but he returned safely.
This was all I needed to hear, my Jonah was alive!
More families came to the camp. They were Christian people from Vileyka.
When I told them I had been in the Vileyka Ghetto and escaped at the
last minute, they were surprised. There was a rumor that all the Jews
had been killed. [This rumor was erroneous; quite a few survived.]
Months passed and I didnt see my husband. He kept taking part
in missions, but I would get notes from him.
The summer was gone and fall came and the rain kept coming, and it became
cold. We stayed in the huts and then expected to receive orders to build
underground shelters, but the orders didnt come. Winter came and
there was heavy snow. My son and I were still barefoot, and our legs
became swollen from the cold. Finally they built bunkers, and the first
bunker that was built was given to me along with 30 other families.
I must say that those bunkers were much improvement over the bunkers
I lived in when in the forest near Hatzentzitz.
Fate is strange and unexplainable. It seems like all my tribulations
and unbelievable hardships caused me to be extremely healthy in an almost
miraculous way. When I lived with the 30 Christian families, each and
every one became sick with typhus. Despite the fact that I slept next
to them and I breathed the same air and took care of them when they
were sick, neither my son nor I became sick with typhus. The brigade
doctor was very busy and had no time to visit our camp. My neighbors
prayed that I would get sick, since the doctor was Jewish and they were
hoping that Dr. Kottler [from Dolhinov] would visit them if he heard
there was a Jew who was sick. So when I didnt get sick they tricked
the doctor and informed the partisans that my son and I had become sick.
When my husband Jonah heard the rumor, he went to the doctor and begged
him to come with him. When Jonah came with the doctor to the camp, they
found all our neighbors were sick and my son and I healthy, which was
much to the doctors surprise given that we were surrounded by
Although he checked all the sick people, he had no medicine to give
them. In spite of all of it, eventually everyone healed. The situation
went through some changes. The partisans who were supposed to bring
us food were called back to active duty, and now we had to take care
of ourselves. They still sent us food once in a while, but the food
was not as plentiful as before.
When spring came, the camp was Dismantled. All the people were transferred
to the village Mistanovich to live in homes of farmers. If I said that
they received us with open arms, it would be an exaggeration. But with
pressure from the partisans, the owners of the farmhouses received us
Reluctantly with gritted teeth.
It seemed like my tribulations, which didnt leave physical scars,
would leave deep emotional scars. During the nights I would scream out
of my sleep and mention names that were unknown and in a language that
the farm owner did not understand, so she told everyone that I was insane.
At first I didnt understand why everyone I encountered from the
village kept asking me questions. Since I answered logically to all
the questions, they shook their heads and said, What does your
hostess want from you? You seem perfectly normal.
I didnt answer them but in my heart I felt, If only you
went through a little bit of the pain that I suffered, you would all
One night when we were all in deep sleep, we heard knocks from the door
and a deep, manly voice said, Is that where the Jew with the baby
I was very fearful that someone wanted to harm me, so I went to my hostess
and said in a threatening voice, If you give me up, my husband
will come here and kill you.
Although she did want to get rid of me, she was fearful of my husband,
so she said, There is no Jewish woman here.
But it didnt seem to satisfy the man. He kept knocking and threatening
to break the doors and the windows if they didnt open up to him.
I didnt know what to do so I went to the window and asked, What
do you want?
The man answered, I am a Jewish partisan from Kurenets. I found
out that there was a Jewish woman here and I came to ask if she needed
I thanked the man and told him I didnt need any help, but the
fact that I was a Jew seemed to have spread around the area.
One day, a young woman came from a nearby village and introduced herself.
When I first asked if she was a Jew, she acted as if she was very insulted,
but she still kept coming every week. One time, during a deep, heart-to-heart
conversation, she told me her story. She was from a Jewish background
and had been born in Minsk. During her studies in the university, she
met a Christian man who she married. She lived with him very happily
and had a little girl. When Hitler came to the Soviet Union, her husband
arranged for her and her mother to get Aryan papers. They moved away
to the village Kashtinivitz, where they became teachers. Their daughter
didnt know anything about her connection to Jewish ancestry. She
would play with all the Christian kids and together they would curse
the children whose mother was a Jewish pharmacist.
One time the girl came home and said that today she saw many Jews, and
they didnt appear different to her than the Christian people.
The woman said that she could hardly contain herself. She left the room
and started crying, but she still didnt tell her child that she
was a Jew.
In the village where she lived, no one even considered the possibility
that she was Jewish, and in these times it was a very bad idea to let
anyone know. When I asked her what happened to her husband, she said
the partisans had killed him
Finally, my husband came for a visit, and when he realized the mistrust
I had with my hostess, he moved me to another family where I had very
good relationships and I helped as much as I could with the house chores
and everything seems to be going well for us
It was the spring of 1944, the Germans started another blockade of the
forest and the villages that were under the control of the Soviet partisans.
As a Jew I knew I must escape. The head of the village, who was appointed
by the Communist Party told me politely that the Germans were very near,
and that I as a Jew, faced greater danger then anyone else. So I said
goodbye to my hostess. It was filled with tears and was quite sentimental.
I took some food and put my son on my back, and I walked out to the
On the road I met with some Christians I knew, amongst them were the
Postchod family from Pleshensitz. When I asked if I could join them,
they were very positive and let me join. We kept running away from the
enemy from one forest to the other on the way east.
We were exhausted and indifferent to our fate. The Christian people
felt that they could always give themselves up to the Germans since
they had a chance there, but I had no choice. I had to escape, like
a wounded soldier. So I left my Christian friends and continued running.
I was hungry and thirsty and my legs were swollen and I could hardly
walk. On my back I carried my son who was as hungry as me.
The forest was filled with farmers who tried to escape but didnt
succeed. They had their horses and carriages and their cows. I walked
amongst them and I begged for food. Once in a while I would receive
it, and many times not. For my thirst I drank cows urine.
When these Christian men who were mostly from Vileyka decided to give
themselves up to the Germans, I had to sleep by myself. But where should
I go? I didnt know what to do. I knew that the fact that my son
Yehudah was circumcised would cause the Germans to immediately identify
him as a Jew, so I decided to continue and arrived at a place where
no one would know me or suspect that I was a Jew. I took my skirt and
exchanged it for a little girls dress. I put it on my son Yehudah,
and instead of a skirt I wore a sack. The village woman who exchanged
the sack and the little girls dress with me thought I was insane,
but I knew that this was my only choice to save my son and myself.
Immediately I separated myself from these people so no one would know
me. My plan was clear to me: Yehudah could only speak Russian, and if
no one would check him naked, the Germans would never suspect he was
a Jew. And I would pretend to be either a Pole or a Russian as needed.
So I continued going. I met people who had not known me before, and
not wanting to be alone I kept following them. But there was an incident
that caused them suspicion that I was a Jew. During one time when we
rested, they decided to clean themselves from lice. I was asked by the
woman who sat next to me to kill her lice. The farm people would do
it very proficiently with a knife, but I didnt know how to do
it. The farm woman was very surprised and said, You must be a
Clearly I denied it. I said I came from a big town, and in the big towns,
this was not a common practice. My son spoke perfect Russian and he
did not cause any suspicion. He looked like he could be any other girl.
We didnt stop anywhere for a long time. The Germans kept coming
behind us, and we escaped until we arrived at the town Brisav. The area
was crowded with people and there were many bodies on the ground. No
one had taken care of their burial.
My son kept asking, Mother, why are they sleeping on the ground?
But I didnt answer.
On the road I met the teacher from Kastanevich who I befriended before
(the Jewish woman who originally came from minsk,who told me about her
hiding the fact of being a Jew.) She was now with her mother. They asked
me to join them and they shared their food with me. When they asked
me what happened to my dress and why I was wearing a sack, I told them
about making my son look like a girl. They said that I was very clever
for doing it.
A few days later, the Germans came to the forest where we were resting,
and they started shooting with machine guns and artillery. The entire
forest was burning from all the artillery shells. The two partisan units,
Halochem and Hanokem, tried to break through
the blockade and fought like lions. We kept hearing them shouting, For
Stalin! and For the Homeland! Hundreds of people were
killed. I, together with my son and Grunia and her mother, entered inside
the hollow trunk of a fallen tree and we lay there because we were exhausted.
We couldnt run any farther.
The battle between the Germans and the partisans continued the entire
night. It was a battle for life and death. The partisans were fighting
with their backs against the River Berezina. The next morning, Grunia
told me that it seemed that in a few minutes the Germans would arrive
in our area. I always carried a belt, thinking that if the situation
became critical, I would commit suicide. I put the belt on my neck and
on the neck of my son and started tightening it, but Grunia started
yelling at me. You went through so much trouble and now you are
committing suicide?! This is very foolish.
So I took the belt off my neck with a big sigh. In a few minutes we
were taken prisoners by the Germans, who brought us to a central location
where they kept thousands of POWs. From afar I could see many familiar
faces of Christian people, amongst them the Postchod family and some
people from Vileyka. I tried to avoid them.
Amongst the thousands of POWs, Grunia was very noticeable for cleanliness
and her nicer clothes [the rest were dressed like farmers, she had been
university-educated], so clearly she was noticed by the Germans and
they investigated her. She showed them her IDs, and presented herself
as a pure Russian. Clearly she spoke very good Russian, but that was
not enough proof for the Germans. They asked who here knew her, so she
pointed to me. When I was asked to repeat her information, I repeated
all the information that was in her IDs. When my son realized that I
was talking to the Germans, he started crying. The Germans ordered me
to take the child and stand with him.
One of the Germans pointed at Yehudah and said, Its a Jewish
We were called to a special investigation by an SS man who spoke good
Russian. When he started questioning me, I didnt get confused.
I said speaking both a little Russian and a little Polish that I came
from Vilna. When he asked me where my husband was, I said, In
He started beating me with a baton all over my body, but I denied being
a Jew. I said I dont even know any Jews. The German became very
agitated and started yelling at me. You speak a little Russian
and a little Polish to get me confused, but you will not succeed! We
will kill you in a most torturous way. We will cut your fingers off
one at a time. One for having a Jewish child.
But I kept repeating the same thing, that I am not a Jew. They never
thought of checking the child because he looked like a girl.
He wore a dress and he had long hair that was combed like a girls
and he didnt cause any suspicion of him being a boy. The SS man
kept hitting me all over my body and I heard my child crying bitterly.
But I kept insisting that I was not a Jew.
Another German officer came, and the SS man said that in spite of the
fact that he tortured me, I denied the fact that I was a Jew. The second
German looked at my face and put his hand on my shoulder and announced
in German, Her nose is not a Jewish nose.
I pretended not to know what he said. After much discussion they decided
to bring me back for more investigation the next day.
The Germans ate and drank and fell asleep while guarding us. Sleeping
Germans surrounded me, each separated by about a meter. I felt that
I would not survive another interrogation, so I decided to try to escape
to save our souls. I thought that it was better to get a bullet in my
back than to go through the seven levels of Hell.
I tied my son to my back with a belt and said to him. If you want to
survive, dont make any sounds until we are far away from here.
My child was only four years old, but he matured before his time. He
knew the dangers. We lay on the ground and I started crawling between
the sleeping guards until I was about 30 meters away. I then got up
and with quiet but fast steps, I entered amongst the bushes where no
man ever walked, and I was swallowed amongst them. How long we lay there,
I dont know, at least a few days. Finally I couldnt stay
there anymore. Despite the fact that for my safety we should have stayed
there, we were very hungry. We had only eaten some of the wild plants
and grass around us. Also, I felt very lonely.
We kept walking, not knowing where go. We were lucky to find some food
that had been thrown away in the forest. It was rotten, but it saved
us from starvation.
During that walk, I thought of the suffering that seemed to never end,
and deep in my heart I was sorry that I was not killed with all the
Jewish residents of Ilja during the massacre that took place more then
two years ago. I couldnt understand where I had the strength to
continue the struggle to survive. I stopped this short, thinking of
better times in the past. I was so deep in thoughts that I didnt
even realize I was right by a farmhouse.
When I realized I entered the house, it seemed like my face and the
way I was dressed made the farm woman identify me. She immediately said,
My daughter, liberation came.
I became very confused. I didnt understand what she was talking
about and I asked her.
The Germans broke their neck, she answered in cold and simple
I asked her for something to eat. She had no bread but she gave us a
few potatoes that we devoured. After she told me where we were located,
I decided to try to find my husband, who I assumed was located about
100 kilometers to the west.
The woman warned me that I must not walk through the forest now, and
must avoid out-of-the-way routes since the remnants of the Nazi army
were hiding now there. So I took the main road, and I dreamed of two
things: to see my husband alive and to eat a good amount of food. I
went through many, many villages without fear. When I entered the homes
and asked for food, people asked me, Why are you wearing a sack?
I happily answered, For my skirt I saved the life of my son.
It took more than two days until I arrived to the area where my husbands
unit was located, but the brigade was not there. They were on a mission
chasing the Germans. I waited for them and finally they returned. I
stood there looking, and despite the fact that Jonah was amongst the
first to arrive, I didnt recognize him. All of a sudden I heard
a sound, people calling, Your husband is here!
When we finally faced one another, he saw that I was without our child.
He seemed very upset and his face filled with sadness, but he didnt
mention the child. I immediately said, Happily, our son is alive
and he is staying in a temporary shelter that I arranged for.
My husband could not stay there any longer. He had to continue with
his brigade as they were on the way to liberate Vileyka. I stayed there
for a few days, and then returned to the village Mastinivitz, the place
where I lived before the German blockade.
The farmers who knew me were very happy to see me alive. While I was
in that village pondering the future, the Soviet Politruk arrived and
started establishing kolhozes (Soviet agricultural settlements). Needless
to say, the farmers were very upset by this. They said, Why did
we fight the Nazis and make our village a partisan base? But no
one listened to the complaints, and diligently they established kolhozes
that replaced private ownership of farms. They suggested that I join
a kolhoz that I send my child to center (where he would stay day and
night). I refused and put my child on my back, then walked to my hometown
Ilja. When I arrived there, the sun was setting. I crossed the Tatarska
alley. I was tired and exhausted and my legs would not let me continue.
As if there was a magic wand, the Christians came out of their homes
to look at the miraculous sight.
Bat- Sheva and her son returned alive.
Many of them asked me to enter their homes, but I continued without
When I arrived at the central market, the center of life of the Jewish
town in the past, I realized that everything had been burned to the
ground. Only the Christian homes survived. I became confused and didnt
know what to do. Around me there was a crowd of Christian people. One
of them told me that today they saw my husband arrive in town. I didnt
know where to look for him, but I knew that someone would tell him that
I had arrived and we would meet.
Despite the fact that many asked me to come to their home, I refused
to enter any Christian homes. My heart wouldnt let me do it. I
remembered what they had done to us Jews of Ilja during the Nazi period.
I sat on a rock and thought, Why did I return here? Why did I
come back to these murderers? Those people destroyed my family, my parents
and my brothers, my friends, men and women, old and young
Jewish community that lasted hundreds of years
I wanted to go away, but where? This entire country is tainted. There
is not one piece of land that is not saturated with Jewish blood, the
blood of people of toil who were pure and honest and became martyrs.
From afar I looked on the valley of death, the place where they were
taken, shot, and burned alive. I stood in shock across from that field,
covered by endless, bottomless mourning. I felt much sentiment and desperation
for the awful fate of the town where I was born, raised, educated and
married. This was the town where my ancestors of many generations had
lived, and now I was faced with desecration and destruction, complete
desolation. I felt a hand on my shoulder. When I turned around I saw
it was Jonah, who stood behind me in shock and in depression. Looking
at the burial place of his parents and his town, his eyes looked off
to the distance, and in his mouth he said a prayer, Yitgadel,
Veitkadesh, shmaia raba.
The night came and we returned to town. Virami, the Christian man that
Jonah had worked for before, stood at the entrance to his house. He
asked us to come and stay with him. I refused to enter. I knew that
he was guilty in many ways for the death of my beloved brother Yakov
by refusing to give him a shelter. (later I found out that he was the
one who gave him to the Germans), but Jonah said with no sentiment,
Bat Sheva, not one of them is better than him. So where should
Virami gave us a huge meal, but when I sat at the table, which was filled
with all sorts of finery, I lost my appetite and could not touch the
food. His wife gave me a dress for a present, but I didnt even
thank her. Despite the fact that I received a very comfortable bed with
pillows and blankets, conditions that I did not have for a very long
time, I couldnt fall asleep. I kept planning how to get revenge
on the murderers.
The next day we received an apartment that used to belong Chaia Raizel
Kagan (Shimshelev). Despite the fact that this was a small and unkempt
apartment, I was very happy to get out of the home of Christian murderers
who I couldnt look in the eye. In another side of the house lived
Hala Rodnitsky. I started looking for my family possessions. Ante Borikivich
had my parents bed, which I confiscated. From Seska Kondertsunuk
I took back the mattress and the blankets. From Vlodia I took the sewing
machine, and like that I temporarily fixed our room.
My son refused to recognize his father. He kept saying to me, Mother,
what does this stranger do here? Kick him out!
For many years we lived alone and he couldnt understand why Jonah
was with us now. I explained to him that this man was his father, and
because of the war, he had to separate from us, but now he was back.
Jonah felt very sad and said, The day my son will call me father,
I will be the happiest man on earth.
He always played with him and tried to befriend him and receive love
by giving him toys. My son had never seen toys before. Finally there
were good results and the heart of the boy was softened and a connection
was established. One time, when Jonah left the home for a few days,
my son came to me and said, Where did the man go?
When will he return?
Meanwhile, a few more survivors returned to town. Amongst them were
two cousins of my husband who came after much tribulation and journeyed
through the Soviet Union. They were Yitzhak Shapira and Yitzhak Hadash.
They lived with us. All the survivors who came alone (not in family)
found a warm shelter with us. They, like me, truly understood the sense
of loneliness. Despite the fact that we were poor, we shared everything
with them. My husband had only one top shirt and three people used it.
Each week, another person would use it.
For my son to return to normal life was very difficult. He only spoke
Russian and refused to learn Yiddish. When I put salt in the soup, he
refused to eat it, and he said I was poisoning him. He refused to eat
anything that was cooked since in all our time that we stayed in the
forest he hardly ate anything cooked. We only ate bread, vegetables
and water. He would always say, Bread, water and potatoes. Those
are the only good things to eat.
I found out that the cow my parents owned had been taken by a Christian
man. I went to court and won my case, and the cow was returned to me.
So now we had a good supply of milk.
Once our conditions improved, I started thinking of revenge again. I
couldnt rest. I couldnt get it off my mind. I decided to
bring to justice all the local murderers of my townspeople and my family.
I got in touch with the NKVD and brought cases against the Christian
people who killed Jews in front of everyone. Amongst them were Virami,
Yanoshkovich, and others. The seat of the court was in Vileyka. I came
to the trials and said, The people who stand before you, your
honor, during Hitlers time spilled the blood of devout Communists.
In my heart I knew if I just said Jewish blood it would not have much
effect, but the judge said, If what you are telling me is the
truth, they are not less guilty even if they only killed Jews. The blood
of Jews is not to be spilled without punishment.
They received life sentences. When the judge asked me if this was sufficient,
I said no. I couldnt continue living in town. Every step I took,
every hill reminded me of the terrible tragedy that my townspeople and
my nation experienced. Almost the entire Christian population took part
in their murder and in the plundering. During Sunday, they would dress
with the clothes of the Jewish people who had been murdered, and go
to the church to pray, and this would make my blood boil.
It wasnt enough that they took part in the murder of the Jews,
but they also stole their belongings. I was determined to leave the
place, but I was pregnant and that prevented me from accomplishing this
task. But there was a small incident that gave me the push to move to
a place where I could live amongst Jews. I would do my shopping once
a week, and I was delayed in town. When I returned I found my son standing
in front of the locked door and crying. When we entered the house I
asked him what happened, Did someone beat you up?
He answered that no one beat him up, But when you left, I entered
the apartment of Aunt Hala, and she called me Jewish. I said to her
I am not Jewish, but she insisted that I am Jewish.
I said to him, The aunt was right, my son. You are a Jew.
He refused to listen and said that this couldnt be. When
we were in the forest you kept telling me that I am not a Jew. And all
of a sudden you tell me I am Jewish?
When my husband returned from work, I said, If you dont
want to raise a Christian boy, we must leave immediately.
My husband said, You are in the last month of your pregnancy.
So lets wait until you deliver, and then we will leave this place.
We left with very little possessions; a few pieces of dry bread, some
soap, some pillows, a small wooden bath to wash our daughter, who was
two weeks old, but I was fearless. The only fear I had was of starvation
and lice. So like this we left Ilja forever, though she will forever
stay imprinted in the tablet of our hearts, an imprint that is filled
with anger and bitterness.
Our first step was to go west, to Poland, and from there to Vienna.
They didnt let us transfer the dry bread across the border. In
Vienna there was a lack of food at that point, so we continued to Italy,
where we went all over, going south and north, east and west, and we
stayed there for two and a half years. First to Bari and then to Talkisa.
The Joint and UNRA took care of us. Here there was plenty of food and
we lacked nothing, but our deep desire was to go to the Land of Israel.
Here we met agents sent from Israel to help us. We particularly befriended
Mrs. Tal, who acquainted us with the spirit of the Land of Israel. Many
of the Jewish refugees that constantly arrived from Italy were organized
according to their Zionist political parties before the Holocaust. We
got in touch with the Revisionist Party that we had belonged to as Beitar
members before the Holocaust.
We wanted to immigrate to Israel as soon as possible, but the fact that
we had two young children was an obstacle. First they wanted single
people and young couples without children who were needed to help in
the War of Independence. After a long time in Sarkisa, my husband wanted
to move to the camp Tinsitza, where people of all nationalities of Europe
were accepted. There were amongst them even some Germans. When my son
heard some people speaking Russian, he ran home very happily and with
excitement announced, Mother, here they speak like me!
In Rome there were many Jewish survivors who lived in kibbutzes, where
there was a better chance of immigration. We really wanted to join the
partisan kibbutz, but for some reason, Jonah encountered many obstacles
when he tried to enlist there. One morning, I joined him in his visit
to the immigration office in Rome. Jonah pointed out to me the Israeli
agent who was responsible was a guy by the name of Krapusky, who is
now the Secretary of Kibbutz Ein Harod. Jonah said that he was the man
who decided. I approached him and said, Mister, could you tell
me how many gloves do I need in order to talk to you?
The man was embarrassed by such straight talk that he wasnt used
to. He asked me what I wanted and I explained to him our situation and
asked for his help, to be enlisted into the partisan kibbutz in Rome.
When he found out our political affiliations were not Socialist (the
Revisionists were non-Socialists), he said that there was no chance
of us being accepted into a kibbutz. He turned his back to us and started
walking, but I didnt let him go. I started crying, telling him
our situation. While I was talking, another door opened and another
Israeli agent by the name of Schwartz who is now the Secretary of Kibbutz
Tel Yosef, came out and asked what we wanted. When I explained to him
our situation, he immediately arranged for us to go to the partisan
kibbutz in Rome, where we stayed until we immigrated to Israel. Now
when I am writing this memoir which is devoted to the book that will
memorialize our town Ilja, my son Yehudah who was together with me through
the torturous journey through the ghetto and the forest, is an active
member of the Israeli Defense Force.