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Krivichi Natives in Israel

On Martyrdom

By Eliezer Shod
Pages 327-372 of the Krivichi Yizkor book
Note: the author describes the events, his thoughts and emotion in a splendidly detailed manner using poetic language and passages from literary sources, because of time constraints and a difficulty in translations, this translation is a shorter version.
Eilat Gordin Levitan

Eliezer Shod is the son of Israel Shod, and was born in 1916 in Krivichi.
The SlaughterThe twenty eighth of April, 1942 - the day that all of natives of our town, Krivichi, wherever they are will remember until their dying day. It was Tuesday, a gray and routine Tuesday. I woke up early and walked to the drudgery of a job that the Judenrat gave me by order of the Nazi rulers. I left my father and sister at home not having any inkling that something horrible was about to occur.
At seven in the morning I got to the house of the Judenrat, on the other side of town, and from there I walked together with Hillel Steingold and Shmuel Katzovitz—may god avenge their spilled blood. As ordered, we worked in the train station of Krivichi. When we were just a few steps from the station we felt that there was some unexplained tension in the air. Quickly, rumors spread that they were capturing Jews in order to send them to the front for certain jobs. For a minute we stood in shock, not knowing where to go. From somewhere my aunt came running. She urged us to run as fast as we could and to hide from the Nazis and the collaborators from the local population and any other non-Jews in the town who were helping them.
We quickly jumped into the cellar of the building next to us. This building was emptied of all of its residents already from the days the Soviets ruled in 1939. The owners and the tenants were sent far into Russian-Asia as traitors to the Soviet Union. We knew this would be a good hiding place, but a few young local men saw us and immediately ran off. We knew they were going to tell the local police of our hiding place. We quickly left. I ran to an attic of one of the homes and hid there. I found other Jews here among them: Jacob Shod, Mordechai Schulman, and one or two others that I no longer remember.
When I looked back, I realized that my friends Hillel and Shmuel weren’t with me. I never saw them again. I will never know where they had gone.
I settled in my new hiding place with much apprehension. Obviously we were all shaking from dread and in great panic. We huddled together. We wanted to be as small as we could so no one would notice us. We kept quiet. We even tried to slow our breathing, even trying to stop altogether for fear that our own breath would betray us to our captors. So like this we sat silently. The silence was choking us… All of a sudden…
Crack. Crack. Crack. Three shots from a rifle echoed in the deathly silence. It seemed like they were shooting very near us. I looked through a hole in the wall and I could see a local policeman, Kazimir Savitczki running back and forth. He was shooting in the air. Our fear became even greater.
Outside it seemed that the panic was everywhere. All of the people who hadn’t yet found hiding places ran in circles looking for ones. After a few minutes I could see the armed SS men, bearing the skull emblem on their heads, and their left arms through the cracks. I saw my relative Meyer Shod running swiftly into the barn and hiding behind the wall as if he was trying to get inside of it. The SS men saw him. They ran behind him and executed him on the spot. They also shot his grandson, Zalman.
During those minutes I saw with my own eyes the son of Meyer, the father of the child who was just shot, pulled out by the local collaborators. Later I found out the pursuer found him in the attic of that house and brought him down. I saw the same sort of sight with Hillel the tailor, a resident of the house where we were hiding. He was a hard working Jew who labored daily to provide for his family, his wife and his four children, one of whom was only a few weeks old. The SS people took the wife with the baby in her arms. The mother was crying and pleading for the baby’s soul. While they were pulled the SS men took the baby from its mother’s arms and threw him with all his might against the wall of the house as if it was nothing. They continued walking…
I saw Shalom and his mother Faiga Botvinik taken, but I couldn’t see where. I was too fearful and couldn’t stand up. I thought of how Shalom returned to Krivichi from his long journey. He traveled to many countries and even arrived in the land of Israel, but now he came back to a world of no return….
Ben Zion was mute and very weak and didn’t understand at all what was occurring, he barely pulled himself along with a blank look on his face. All of a sudden he stopped walking and leaned against the wall of the house by the entrance. The policeman Adamovich who was one of the collaborating police became furious with him. He began hitting him with the butt of his rifle with all his might on his head and his body with no pity until Ben Zion started shaking violently and blood engulfed him in the place that he stood. I saw Gershon Tauger and his wife Rivka Rachel nee Schulman pulled by the Nazis and also Shoshka, Shimshon and Schmuel Kacovic. It seemed like Shmuel wanted to join his family. He came voluntarily out of the place where we were hiding and turned himself over to the police. May god revenge the blood of all the ones that I saw and mentioned and all the ones I didn’t see and didn’t mention. I only found out the details of the last walk some days later when I left the hiding place.
We sat there without moving any of our limbs and without saying a word for many, many hours, nerve-racking hours that seemed to last an eternity. It nearly drove us crazy. We lost all sense of time. We were oblivious to the days going by. We didn’t even notice if the sun was coming up or going down. It was as if our brains had undergone a radical transformation to block out reality and protect us from insanity.
All of a sudden darkness was engulfed by crimson shadows. This was very sudden and it pierced our mind and senses. The sky filled with illuminated crimson flames and plumes of smoke. We didn’t dare look into each other’s eyes. It was as if our hearts beat together. We felt that something extremely cruel was occurring all around us, but we still refused to understand that our dear ones and townspeople are no more. They perished in the fire and smoke…
One after the other cringed; as if we were afraid of our own shadows we left our hiding place. Once again we huddled together.
We left town as quickly as we could and fled into the forest. We walked into the thickest part of the forest. There was deathly silence around us. It was if we were the sole survivors in a world of deceased spirits. The huge bonfire that could be seen from everywhere under the red skies filled us with a sense of a surreal apocalypse. Could it be? We asked ourselves. Is everyone gone? But we didn’t expect an answer. It was as if a power greater than ourselves pushed us forward into the forest and away from the torturous creatures chasing us.
We spent two days and nights in the forest. Finally the will to survive took over. We were hungry and thirsty, and filled with a longing for those who were dear to us. We had no energy. We left the forest and found ourselves near the labor camp of Knihinin in the train station Nyaka. W e felt apathetic toward all that would happen to us. We decided not to run anymore. We sat to rest near the forest and didn’t even try to hide ourselves. We lost all regard to our survival.
After a short time the German Reichswehr guards found us and took inside the camp. It was there, behind the barbed wire, that we found the bitter truth of what had occurred from other survivors who had escaped and come here. Not only did Jews tell us the story, but also a few pure-hearted Christian people who saw the torture but could do nothing. All the Jews and their families, including babies and the elderly, who were found in their homes were taken by the SS killers and their collaborators, policemen and other locals. They were taken family by family to a central location, the garden of the Catholic Church at the edge of town. When they got there they were ordered to sit quietly and obey all orders.
They sat there for hours not knowing their fate. Babies in the arms of their mothers cried from hunger, thirst, fear, and torture. Women, children, and old men were kept from food and water. They were parched. Young men and women, teenagers, who just now became self-aware, found themselves at the edge of nothingness and all the doors of their future were lost and their dreams crushed. Men who were the heads of households sat with their minds going crazy with the pain of being helpless in the protection of their loved ones. It was as if they were in a huge desert filled with man-eating wolves closing in on them. Like this, they waited for their death penalty at the hand of their German captors. Their sentence soon arrived and they were executed in a hard and pitiless way. There was nothing that could save them. The killers got those that were still hiding, and felt that the number was sufficient. They started with a satanic ritual. The overture arrived, the last chapter of these diabolic rites. The collaborators walked among the crowded yard and announced, “All the people present that have gold, silver, or other valuables must give them to us. If you inform us of your possession and hand them to us willingly we will not harm you. You can return home with your families safely.”
Those sons-of-bitches did their evil deed with dedication and devilish cleverness. They wanted to satisfy their German masters. But it could be that some of them wanted the gold and silver for themselves before the SS arrived in full force. Most of the Jews did not listen to them. They had no illusions. They knew that the end was near and that no one would leave the scene alive. So how could a few hours change the inevitable? But a few of them were still holding onto this promise, like Shalom and his mother Faiga Botvinik, Mendel Shulman from Peskovyzcyna and others whom I don’t remember.
Mendel had a very precious diamond and before he went for his last walk he put it in an intimate part of his body. He was under the illusion it would save his life. As soon as he gave them the diamond they pulled him away from the crown and beat him to see if he had more diamonds. From there he was pulled to the place of slaughter where he was killed.
However, the story of his fate and his mother’s has a few versions. Some say that they brought with them much gold and jewelry to the garden. As soon as the collaborators realized that, they took it from them and killed them outside the churchyard. The other version says Shalom told the SS men that he had a lot of gold hidden in his house. So he was taken with armed guards to his house where they took everything from him and there they brutally killed him. The third version is that after they went to the house and took all of his treasures Shalom was told to dig a hole and there the killers buried them alive.
What is the true version, no one knows. One thing we know is that they were cruelly killed. Eventually when they realized that no one else was going to give them treasures, they started searching them. They beat them cruelly and the cries of pain hung heavy in the air. It seemed that by then that the killers didn’t care about gold anymore, they became very enthralled with the relentless beating the Jewish townspeople with their sickles. The screams of the young women pierced the air. The young girls were pulled forcefully and their clothes tore…
The policemen and some of the local population started raping them in front of their mothers, fathers, and brothers. Mothers were raped in front of husbands and daughters. Then there were orders by the SS to stand in lines. From here started the last road of the sad parade that marched into oblivion. A long journey, we walked slowly despite their order to hurry. Like this marched the Jews of my town. Men, women with babies, small children, teenagers, and the elderly all took their last walk.
On the other side of the road stood the Christians of the town. Many of the villagers came to plunder. They did that and clapped their hands and threw rocks at those of us walking. Particularly cruel was a woman named Stasonya Badoyaha. She killed, with an ax, Gutka, the daughter of Henya Razer. She took part in the killing of mothers and children. She stood with the crowd laughing and said, “Where is your God you filthy Jews? You say you are the chosen people so where is your God and why isn’t he saving you from this undeniable kaput?” While she was talking she drew her finger across her throat to signify death. The crowd laughed when she yelled.
The Jews that were taken on their last walk continued on their way, forgotten by both God and Man. The first row of the moving line already seemed to be sinking into the ground of the Vyhan ready to be swallowed up. The middle and the end of the line were still walking through the street of the town.
The front of the line was then ordered to stop by a deserted building at the edge of a trail that took one nowhere. This wooden building was dilapidated and stood at a distance of 100 meters from the Potlianka, a nearly dried-up stream that had more junk and filth on its course than water. This became the destination for all whom the Nazis captured. And what should be done there? This question was not left in the air for long. Soon, the answers came…
The end of the line still hadn’t arrived at that spot, and already the Germans started barking orders to give them gold and silver and anything valuable…
Not one person answered the call. Not only that, anyone who had any money of any denomination, zloti, zarbonci, rubles, started tearing it into small pieces, throwing it to the wind. Coins were thrown into the mud so that the Germans and their local henchmen could not profit by them. The murderers became enraged and jumped on the helpless Jews, beating them … Immediately after that, they started barking, “Take your clothes off! Disrobe! Fold your clothes in an orderly manner!”
They started using the butts of the rifles, their clubs, sticks, whips, and any tool that they could find, to mercilessly beat us without regards to women, children, and old. Group by group, the armed guards pushed Jews into the dilapidated old house while beating them mercilessly. At the same time, there were rows of people who kept coming there, and received similar treatment. The screams of the tortured pierced the air. You could hardly describe them. It seemed as if their screams would travel all the way to Budslav, and their echoes would be heard as far away as Dolhinov.
The tortured disrobed while the Germans continued to beat them. Men, young and old, were left standing in their underclothes. Women and young girls, mothers and daughters of Israel, how were they to disrobe to the eyes of all? How could they be made to disrobe while the eyes of the lead-colored sky glanced on indifferently, not caring about these outrages? The beasts did not give them a moment to hesitate or to be modest. With a murderous anger, they attacked them and tore their clothes with wild screams…
The helplessness of the hundreds of the captured, the smell of the beaten bodies and the sight of the spilled blood, and especially the fresh whiteness of the young women and girls that could be seen through their torn clothes awakened the most ghastly urges that a human being could experience. Though they suffered most torturous rapes, no one called out, “Enough!” In the clear eyes of the sun, these evils occurred in a space that was filled with the shouts of the tortured, shouts for help and for a savior, and screams of crazy, mocking laughter that was delighted to see the torture.
Amongst the young girls that were raped and tortured to death with satanic cruelty were Simka, Masha, Raisel, SK, D K…
Many said D. K became insane and started dancing wildly around a bonfire that some of the murderers had started. She danced naked, deliriously and shaking uncontrollably until even her torturers became fearful of her. One of the collaborators of the town, a man by the name of Adamovich, jumped on her and started hitting her with the butt of his rifle. He struck her many times until she finally fell to the ground, and then he hit her more. She was still twitching and breathing when he picked her up, threw her in the air and into the dilapidated building, on top of the Jews who were still alive…
All of a sudden, some high-ranking SS officers arrived. As soon as they arrived, people knew that they must quickly finish and that this could not continue in a disorderly manner anymore, so they hurriedly pushed the people while shooting them. So when the last of them crowded that place, the Germans and their commanders started nailing the windows and doors shut.
The local police and other volunteers brought containers of kerosene and poured them on the outer walls of the building. Shortly, they lit the wooden building and huge flames came from all sides. Horrible, tortured screams emanated from inside, and like this burned and turned to dust the Jews of Krivichi. Fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts… Earth, don’t cover their blood. We will remember and we will not forget the Amalek of the 20th century.
While the flames devoured our dear martyrs, the beasts, the Germans and their collaborators, already drunk from the blood and glutted with carnage had a wild feast. They carried on as if it were a festive occasion, but while doing that, they guarded every window and door of the building and shot at anyone who attempted to break out.
The cruelest of cruel. More cruel than the most wicked of the Roman emperors. Even they would offer a pardon to gladiators and prisoners who had survived a most horrible trial by ordeal. But our killers had pity for no one.
But all of a sudden, there was a great shock. From inside the flames of the building came somebody completely engulfed by fire like a human torch. He forcefully took from one of the SS men a machinegun and killed him. He started shooting everywhere while yelling, “Even the tenth generation will avenge our blood! And with my soul will die my enemies! Shma Israel!”
While he was shooting, they shot at him and he fell.
This testament is from Shalom Ziskind.
This is the tragic conclusion of all that occurred in that day of slaughter. 370 souls perished in all sorts of ways that day, but most were torched on the ground of the Vihan, and as I said, not one of the people who were caught survived. Later on I found out that Itzha the smith, and Gitlitz (a family member), were caught but were not taken to the place of the massacre on account of their professions, which were needed by the Germans. The same was true of Shalom Ziskind the barber, who wasn’t even taken, but was left in the police station.
From many I heard that all this occurred while the Zunderkommandant was not around. On that day he wasn’t in town. Some people say that if he had been there, the cruelty of these murders would not have been as awful, but I don’t believe it even a bit. I think that he was not there on purpose. Maybe he even received instructions to leave the area in order to later claim that the massacre had not been ordered by the German high command.
I heard many tales about what occurred the next day. Some said there were plans to make a common grave in the ground of the Vihan, where they would collect all the bodies of people who were killed in their homes, and in their yards and in the street.
The Labor Camp in Kiniahinina
As I told you before, we stayed in the camp and didn’t return to Krivichi. We had to survive somehow, so at that point we had to do what our German masters ordered us to do. We carried on feeling the deepest humiliation and not an ounce of self-respect. Every moment of the day passed through darkness and depression, and nights were filled with terror and nightmares. In the depths of disillusion, sometimes we felt that we were the living dead. We walked both in and outside the realm of the living.
Every day, when the dim light began to pale the veil of night, we had to get up and go to work. We were supposed to do whatever our masters desired. We cut trees in the forest and processed them into useful lumber. We dug all sorts of ditches, tunnels, and trenches.
This camp was under the supervision of the German Army. The murderers of the SS were not supposed to set foot in there, and this worked in our favor. They treated the Jews and all others who worked here in a much more humane way. There were no extraordinary tortures or molestation.
A few older soldiers were put in charge of some of the Jewish manual laborers. Corporal Willy treated us in a very respectful, human way and understood our pain. Everyday, early in the morning and again when evening came, we stood for inspection by him and to be counted and to receive instructions from him. He would never scream or curse or humiliate us as was more common with SS troops. No pushing, no hitting. Almost daily he would secretly give us some food, like a few pieces of bread and leftover cooked food from the kitchen and other things.
He also communicated with us and even suggested and urged us to try to escape as fast as we could, since he had heard rumors that this camp was going to be under the control of the SS command in Minsk, which was headed by the most infamous General Kuba. He said that he had no doubt that our situation would become very horrible, so he said that if we wanted to save ourselves we must escape to the forest.
Only a few days passed and we realized that Willy knew what he was talking about. He was telling the truth. Visits of officers from the SS headquarters in Vileyka became frequent. They would walk around the camp trying to observe our activities. There was one incident where they started bothering the Jews. If I’m not mistaken, it was a Friedman from Dolhinov who received some beatings from a sickle on his back and neck. So now it became very clear that we were in grave danger and that we must escape, in spite of all the advantages and the relative comfort that this place seemed to present, as we later found out it was only an illusion. Still, we didn’t do anything active to escape because we had become accustomed to having this shelter.
At just about that time, we started hearing about some activities of the partisans in the forest far and near. A few Jews from Dolhinov who had escaped the German action in their town and came to Kianihina a few weeks before us told stories about a group of young Jews from their town who went to the forest and joined the partisans. Since April of 1942 they had been fighting the Germans and the collaborators. They were under the leadership of Ivan Timczok and Vlodia Kavilkin, a Soviet officer who had been captured by the Germans early in the war and then was helped by a Jew from Ilya to escape from the POW camp.
Today I don’t remember exactly who were the Dolhinovers in the camp, but as far as I remember, there was a Friedman who I mentioned before, and also a young man by the name of Yehuda Bruch, and one named Poliskin who was from Budslav, and a relative of a Dolhinover and others. Anyway, the last two I mentioned were murdered later. We were also told that the Dolhinover partisans returned to their town and attacked the police station there and captured a lot of German weapons. But all these stories seemed like fairy tales to us. The villagers also said some stories about partisans’ fights between the Germans, and also about the partisans punishing collaborators. The more we heard the stories, the more we wanted to do something. We started fantasizing about walking armed in the forest.
About three weeks before Rosh Hashanah, we heard a story about the partisans near Hatsentsitz by Ilya. They had attacked a factory there, for meat products. Also, some German troops came there to collect money from the local people, so the partisans waited for them. As soon as the Germans received the supplies, the partisans shot from all directions. This took place in the middle of the day and of the 38 German soldiers, 16 were killed and others were taken prisoner. Only a few escaped, but without their weapons. This left a huge impression on us… [p. 338].
In the camp they constantly spoke about it. Not just the Jews, but even the villagers did. The bravery and the concept that this was done in daytime hours made a huge impression. The rumors that the head of the police in Ilya, a man who was from Polish and Folkdeutsche background, was now a prisoner of the partisans spread everywhere. Soon, the partisans paraded him through one village after another. They introduced him as someone who willingly came with them, and they did it knowing that the Germans would take revenge upon his family members. And his family members took part in the killing of Jews of Ilya, Viyazin and Nyaka.
Now we all started thinking of escape, but thinking and doing are two entirely different things. We were not the first to plan an escape from the camp. There were other attempts that did not work out. In some, people were killed while attempting to escape. Amongst them was Poliskin and two other people from Dolhinov who were caught and killed. A more successful attempt was carried out by Shlomo Blocher, the sisters Chaia and Masha Zuckerman, Gabriel Gitlitz, and Rafael Veisenholtz. I was told that the two last names I mentioned, for some reason returned to Krivichi, where they were caught and killed on the day they returned. I have no information as to why they went there, or how they were caught and killed.
The Escape to the Forest
We escaped with the knowledge and the advice of Corporal Willy, who was our guard. In our group there were 12 people, and I do not remember all their names anymore. It was on Yom Kippur of 1942, in the evening. That night, a partisan troop from a town nearby arrived in the village Paskovishzina and took livestock and burned the granaries. We could see the flames all the way in the camp. They lit up the entire area. We saw the German gendarmes running around very nervously and checking the area. We knew that in no time they would do something to the people in the camp as revenge, and we must immediately escape. That night, we decided that we should all be ready.
When Willy arrived with a very civil look on his face, he announced, “It’s time.” From his expression we understood that tomorrow would be too late. We would be kaput. He said something about how early in the morning, the SS people would arrive. We stood for the evening inspection, pretending it was the usual. While he was inspecting us, he gave each of us two grenades and then locked us in a shack (?) and left us. He was sure we would do what was expected of us.
Locked in the barracks, we sat, waiting for the zero hour. Near midnight, when there was total darkness, we broke the door of the barracks. We ran outside. We had with us some wire cutters which we use to break the barbed wire. Soon we were outside of the prison camp. We started running toward the forest, to the depths of the forest. We were the first to run that night. Even today, I don’t know if we were followed by the rest of the Jews of the camp.
With the Partisans in the Forest
Three days and nights passed and we were still walking through the forest. We had not yet reached our destination since we could only walk during night hours. On the fourth day, we found out some horrible news. Today I don’t remember who gave us the news, but sometime in the evening, we found out about the last remnants of the Krivichi community. Whoever was left from the day of slaughter and the two other massacres, people who the Germans selected to work for them, were annihilated. They lived in two homes. The German killers and their assistants threw grenades into the homes and burned them. No one survived. But we had no time to mourn. It seemed that our hearts turned to stone. Numb to all the anguish. They beat to one rhythm. Go ahead. But still, deep down in our souls, we cried. Would we attain the cessation of this journey of terror?
We continued until early morning and then we jumped in the bushes as soon as light came. But to our great fear, a shepherd saw us. Our hearts filled with panic that after this long journey, we would be found by the Germans and their assistants. So with determination, we got up and surrounded him and didn’t let him go on his way. We did not let him leave until nighttime came. Then we released him without hurting him. We knew that now, even if he would inform the authorities, we would be far away.
Immediately we left. Another two nights passed and then on the fifth day, we stood in the village Kaminanya, which was near the river that we aimed to get to. We knew that on the other side of the river there was an area filled with lakes and swamps that were controlled by the partisans. Although we were exhausted by the long walk, we didn’t want to rest. We still wanted to get to the other side of the river, but we had to wait for the contact man of the partisans to arrive. We entered one of the farms where they served us some bread and potatoes. We rested a while, and a few of us even fell asleep. After some hours, a partisan came by and took us across the river in a boat. Some went in a boat and the ones who could swim swam across. From there they showed us a trail in the forest that we should take to arrive to the front guard of the partisan unit. We marched through the forest with our hearts filled with mixed feelings. We were sad that we were so few who reached that point, and yet excited that we almost reached our destiny. And now we had the opportunity to fight the enemy and avenge the murders of our dear ones.
After only about half an hour, we heard an order, “Stop! Who’s there?”
We answered, “Friends, Jews who escaped from the Kahanihinina prison.”
“Stand here and don’t move!” they barked at us. “We will come and see who you are. Do you have any weapons?”
We didn’t even have a chance to answer. Two armed guards came to us. We told them all that we had experienced in the last day and expressed our strong desire to join them and fight our killers. Once again they asked if we had weapons. All we had were grenades. They asked us to give them the grenades.
To tell the truth, when we gave the grenades, we did so very reluctantly and fearfully. We heard stories of Jews who were murdered in the forest by the partisans after they gave up their weapons. During the conversation, two other partisans arrived. One of them was the head of the guard unit. When we asked who we should talk to about joining their unit, they said that we shouldn’t worry and that they would immediately take us to the appropriate place. Since the grenades that we had brought seemed to them to be of good quality, it was one good thing in our favor, and maybe we could even be good fighters.
We worked with them in the deepest of the woods for about an hour, and then we arrived to a big village, Lasniki. That was where this particular unit’s headquarters was located. This was the only unit located in this area. To us it seemed like they were planning a big military operation here.
As we arrived, the head of the unit started interrogating us. It was a very detailed investigation about the roads we took, how we escaped, and about the German camp and their movements in the area. When the investigation ended, we were ordered to stay and rest until they could decide how and where we would be enlisted. Our hearts filled with excitement. We saw it as being accepted as partisans.
They brought us digging tools and we started preparing zimlanki (underground places to live). When night came, we all gathered around a bonfire to warm ourselves from the cold October evening, and also to prepare some baked potatoes. Every person who was there, with no difference to how they arrived, were now citizens of the forest, and this became our commonality.
If you look at the social fabric of the partisan troops, they were all individuals without a common past or social connections who somehow arrived here. Most of them didn’t know one another. Some were escaped POWs who ran away from forced labor camps. Others were villagers who suffered some torture at the hands of the Germans and their collaborators. There were other Jews who came before and after us, and each and every one of them were refugees filled with endless, burning hate, the likes of which the world had never seen before. The one commonality that we all had was the desire to fight and get revenge against the most awful enemy.
It seemed that when they warmed themselves near the bonfires, they all put their yearnings and dreams and hopes for a better tomorrow into songs and declarations of loyalty to all that was left behind. Affected by them, our hearts lit up with urges, the few Jews who arrived here just a few hours ago who joined other Jews who came earlier, escaping the annihilation in Ilya, Kurenitz, Nyaka, Vileyka, Myadel, and a few other places.
At first glance, we were part of a larger group, but at the same time we felt very lonely and isolated sitting at the table of strangers. Many, many of us were the sole survivors of families. We had no one remaining who we could love or declare our loyalty to.
We stayed there for four weeks, in an unclear situation. Were we really part of the group? Meanwhile, we were used for routine sorts of jobs as guards, helpers in the kitchen, in the yard, and also we went through basic training with weapons, cleaning weapons, oiling them, and such activities. Finally, on the third week of November of 1942, we realized that there was a lot of activity and preparation for a huge operation. Part of the troop went in one direction, near the German base in the Belarussian front. If I am not mistaken, it was a large operation in the area of Parafinov, Karlovishina, Dokshitz, and Globoki. Another part of the unit that included 20 people, amongst them myself, was left in the area to wait for instructions. We were ordered to find weapons any way we could. Without weapons, what would our future be with the partisans?
Since the villagers were always taking advantage of confused political and military times to store some weapons that had been abandoned, we attempted to buy from them. But they wanted huge amounts of money, and we could not collect such amounts. So we had no choice but to go to the old Red Army camps, which was now abandoned. This was our only chance. Everyday we would send people to look for weapons in those abandoned camps. We even went far away from where we sat.
Finally, one day, a miracle occurred. For us it was as if we’d found a great treasure. Some of our people found partially burned weapons. When we checked the weapons, we found many rifles, among them some that were of good quality. These weapons had been thrown away during the retreat. We found some Russian automatic weapons and German Schmeizers (?) and all sorts of other weapons and some ammunition and grenades. We even found knives, bombs, bullets, and artillery shells. So now we had to select the ones which were of good quality. We cleaned the useful weapons, oiled them, and we dried the gunpowder and cleared the junk out. Now we felt completely ready for battle. We got in contact with the headquarters and informed them of the artillery that we had found.
At last we heard the order to go ahead. If I am not mistaken, it took place somewhere between the 30th of November to the 2nd of December of 1942. We left the camp in Lasinki as active members of the brigade named for Mikhail Kalinin. The head of this brigade was Major Karavkov. The entire brigade settled near the railroad tracks between Vilna and Minsk in the area of Pleshensitz Bougamin, not far from Palik Swamps, the ones that reach all the way to Borisov and Polochek.
We were somewhere between 18 and 20 Jews. Amongst them, somewhere between 10 and 11 guys and girls from our town. Others were from neighboring towns, and two came from far away. One came from Lodz. His name was Moshe Kohalchikov, and I remember him very well for something which I cared, which I will tell you later. The second one was Edel Oyehudah, I think. I only remember his first name. After some time he was transferred to another brigade of fighting partisans.
Today I cannot clearly remember who amongst the Jews of Krivichi were with me in Lasniki, and who was in that brigade earlier, but I do remember that with me were B.A. and his sister S.T. [They must have stayed in the Soviet Union, and that is why he doesn’t use full names for them.] With me was also Mikhail Katzovitz, Mordechai Schulman, Yakov Shod, and G.W. who came at the same time as me, and Shlomo Bleicher who I think came there long before us. Later on, he left this brigade and joined the brigade named for Otkin. I think that Chana Meltzer from Krivich was in another unit of the same brigade. Also with us was Koppel Shulman. The most experienced amongst us Comrade B.A. He had three jobs: he was the demolitions man, he was in charge of the weapons, and also he was responsible for supplies. His specialty was in dynamite and other explosives. He was very knowledgeable and prepared all the needed explosives and weapons for the different missions, whether it was small units or a huge operation.
Our troop had duties of scouting, setting ambushes, and conducting raids on the enemy base. We also had to “catch tongues”, which meant to capture Germans or collaborators in order to find out about the movements of the enemy. Our friend B.A. took part in every mission. After he made sure that we all had the appropriate supplies for the mission, he would check each and every one of us before we left the base. His extreme knowledge in all that had to do with weapons gave him great value in the mission. There was not one other person among us who knew as much about putting explosives in every conceivable targets as he did. We took part in many missions, and clearly some of them were more successful than others. Can I really count and tell all the different missions after so many years have passed? Even if I wrote some of you, the story would be too long, so I will just tell a few.
In the beginning of December 1942, two companies from our brigade and one from another brigade took part in the attack on the town of Myadel. Our particular unit didn’t take part in that one since it was still being organized. This particular mission left a huge impression on the villagers in the area. At the orders of Vlodia Kavilkin and Timczok, they attacked the guards of the ghetto in Myadel. After they killed them, they broke the gates and told the Jews to run to the forest. A few of them joined the partisans. Others ran to the area of the swamps of Nivyeri and Domo Slovya and joined the family camps there.
If I remember correctly, some of them came to the base in Lasniki, the base for the Brigade of the Revenger, sometime later.
The Mission in Parafinova
At the beginning of April of 1943, our unit containing 8 fighters headed by B.A. was sent on a sabotage mission to put explosives on the railroad and to blow up a train that was carrying military personnel and supplies on the way to the front. Parafinova was an important crossroad where a major train line passed by. Amongst us were six guys and two girls. If I’m not mistaken, the girls were Rashka who I don’t remember her last name, and S.D., the sister of B.A. Other than myself and B.A, who I mentioned before, there was also Mikhail Katzovitz, Koppel Shulman, and others whose names I don’t remember.
Everything was planned earlier. During late night hours we left the base and approached the area where we were supposed to set the explosives. There was some sort of mistake that was made, so we arrived in Parafinova at an early morning hour, around 5 in the morning, which was a very late time to set explosives. Since the area started to get light, there was a bigger risk of getting seen by the Germans. The regular German Army, helped by the local collaborators, guarded the railroad in this area. The tracks were surrounded by electric barbed wire, and if you touched it even lightly, constant sounds would be heard echoing long distances and would alert all the guard stations. So we arrived very carefully at that fence from another side, and since there was some mistake in the instructions that we received, the guards noticed us and opened fire on us. But we were determined to continue with our mission. We answered with automatic weapons, and we threw some grenades at the guard station. Finally, we were able to silence them.
So now we went on with our mission, and as soon as we arrived, it seemed that in a miraculous way, B.A. was able to put explosives instantaneously, without any effort. As soon as he got there, he found the place where the tracks connected. He hardly needed to dig. He put the explosives down and immediately whispered to us to leave. We didn’t wait to see the results. We started retreating, trying to not leave any signs that we were there. As we retreated, fire was opened from other guard stations. At one point, more guards were sent and also special shooting units and attack dogs that came to look for us. We didn’t want to return fire so they would not discover our location.
All of a sudden, the entire area shook and we fell to the ground. There was a huge explosion that could be heard from far away. There was a huge cloud of dust in the air, and the sky lit up and was filled with red flames. You could hear shouts and cries for help from people who sounded like they were gravely wounded. We could hear yells and orders and curses, and constant explosions of bullets and bombs that must have filled these burning train cars.
During this pandemonium they stopped chasing us and we ran off. We were happy that our mission ended without any loss of weapons or lives. Only one girl, Rashka, was slightly wounded. We dressed her wounds and carried her a distance of three hundred meters until we arrived to the forest, where we waited for the rest of the group, and once we counted, we realized that we had all returned safely, and we happily went back to the base.
A Sad Occurrence in the Heart of the Forest
As far as I remember, this took place at the end of April or the beginning of May of 1943. At dusk our unit rested at the heart of a thick forest not far from the road between Pleshensitz and Minsk. All the soldiers who did not have guard duty sat in the dugouts, resting. The guards stood at their stations, watching. The forest was very quiet. No one had any inkling that something was about to occur. Even today I can’t really explain how this occurred, but all of a sudden, the peacefulness was shattered by shots and calls for help.
We immediately ran towards the area where we heard the shots and we found out that there were three or four Germans who had disguised themselves as Russian-speaking partisans. Maybe they had some local connections. Anyway, they came right by the guards. One of them was Moshe Kuharsikov from Lodz. After a short battle, he was wounded. While his blood was pouring, he started calling for help. They were able to pull him with them. The other guards started opening fire too late. Immediately, we started chasing the kidnappers, but the darkness of the night worked against us. They seemed to have disappeared without a trace.
Only weeks later did we find out through some contacts amongst the local villagers the awful fate of our friend Moshe. They took him to the headquarters of the Germans and he was immediately put to a torturous interrogation in which they used the most awful tortures. They beat him with every conceivable weapon. They demanded that he tell them about the movements of the partisans, the amount of weapons we had, and other things. He was extremely brave and withstood all the tortures and did not say one word. His torturers took his eyes out with an iron torch and cut his limbs, but he was unbreakable. With these tortures his soul parted and his pure, heroic blood was gone (?).
We walked in shock. Each Jew stood in his loneliness and our lips whispered, “Honor to his memory.” Every inch of our bodies filled with hatred towards these cannibals (savages?). We demanded revenge, but continued with our routine jobs, waiting for the hour of retribution.
After a few weeks, we received our mission. We were twenty guys. Amongst them, 8 Jews from Krivichi to take part in a mission against a German division that had arrived in the village near Bugomil. It might have been the village Rovka, but I am not sure. They came in order to receive some potatoes and a share of the harvest from the villagers, and also to get contributions from them. So this was a chance to attack the enemy, to kill him and to take revenge for our friend Moshe, may God avenge his blood.
I’m sorry to say that we didn’t accomplish our mission. As soon as we arrived in the area, the Germans were able to detect us and they started shooting. There was a terrible battle from every side. It was a miracle that no one was hurt, but we had to retreat. We were ordered to do so, and our mission failed but we were happy that we didn’t lose anyone.
As we returned to the base in the afternoon, the sun started going down, but still there was a lot of light. We sat down to rest after the mission and to eat our meal. Each one of us felt deep disappointment, and we whispered to each other that despite the disappointments, we had to be more patient and wait for the next mission that would soon come, and at this point we should continue with our regular duties to take care of the weapons and to guard the camp. The guards started readying themselves to go for guarding missions, and I put my long coat on and took my rifle and ammunition and ran to my guard post. The others went to wash up, so I stood sentry, about five- to six-hundred meters from the headquarters, until I was replaced by T.S.—she was also from
Krivichi—who me that I could go and wash myself, and she would replace me. I thanked her and went on my way, and told her that she must watch everything diligently.
I was in the middle of the wash, which was very pleasurable in this severe deprivation in the forest, when all of a sudden I heard shots. Three shots answered by constant fire from automatic guns. I also heard sounds of people running. Immediately I dried myself and dressed and took my rifle in one hand and my jacket in the other, and I ran to join T.S. in her guard post. While running, I completed dressing. When I arrived there I found great pandemonium. People were shooting everywhere. Partisans were running in no clear direction, and villagers left their workplaces, running in panic.
Meanwhile, no partisans came from other units to help. Everyone was sure that there had been a surprise attack by the enemy, and there were shots everywhere, and rockets. No one knew what had caused all this.
Later we found out that T.S. hid behind a tree, and from far away, she noticed shadows that were coming toward our base. She wanted to warn everyone in our camp, and that was why she fired three shots in the air. At first her explanation didn’t make sense. I thought that maybe she fell asleep and had a nightmare, but still, in the back of my mind I remembered the fate of my friend Moshe, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt. But shortly after, I found out that her fear was correct. The other guards notified us that somewhere between 12 and 15 Germans were coming toward our base. Shortly they arrived, each one carrying a rifle or an automatic weapon, and also personal weapons. In their hands they carried some red materials. What can I tell you? Everyone was very confused and the shooting started, but strangely, the Germans didn’t seem to get affected. They didn’t shoot at us even once. They continued walking toward us without drawing their weapons. Finally they all fell on the ground and they shouted at us in Russian that they wanted to see our commander. They said that they didn’t want to fight us anymore, and that they were coming to us willingly to give themselves up and to join the partisans and to fight the common enemy that conquered countries that belonged to them. So now he was also their enemy.
The headquarters immediately got in contact with a higher headquarters, and after a short time, the head of the bigger headquarters came to us. I, together with four other Jews and one Russian, was responsible for details of the agreement with these troops. We collected their weapons and wrote the details of the information. We informed them that only the main headquarters could make the final decision, and we took them to the village where the main headquarters was situated and immediately as they arrived, they started investigating them and gave them food. They were all stubbornly insisting that they would never again fight against us. This was not their war, and if they would get weapons again, they would fight against the Germans and their collaborators.
At the end of the investigation, they were taken to the village Voloki for a final decision. They were declared Prisoners of War and they gave us much information about the movements of the German Army. Later they were separated and sent to different units to join in missions, but under guard until they could prove that they were telling the truth. [beginning of p. 353].Fighting the Blockade
As the partisan movement spread and the attacks became more effective, more and more areas came under partisan control. The Nazis, with their mighty power, were surrounding Leningrad in a blockade of metal and artillery. They also arrived into the area of Karkaz (Kharkoz?) on the way to the Caspian Sea. They were also spreading to the towns of the Volga, trying to get to the Ural Mountains, and to make contact with the wing that went to the Caspian Sea, trying to buttress their position through the length and the width of the Soviet Union, in an attempt to reach Moscow.
It was erroneously thought that the Red Army did not take any initiative in those fronts other than a few unimportant battles where they succeeded in neutralizing some German tanks. At least this would be the impression if you listened to the information on the Soviet radio. It seemed that these announcements were made to confuse the enemy. At the same time, the Red Army and the Soviet Politburo (or military commanders?) were planning an attack that would turn the whole war around (turn the world on its head?).
On the other hand, the partisans, with some influence of the Soviet political command in Moscow, was always busy. Constantly there were new units and brigades established who caused much trouble for the German Army. Behind the front lines, in distances from 600 to 800 km from the front where the battles were taking place, the partisans increased their sabotage activities. They would lay mines on the train tracks to destroy trains carrying weapons, artillery, armor, and food supplies. Derailing trains became an almost daily activity. The partisans even started battles with smaller German Army units. The partisan movement proved itself as a constant and powerful force.
The huge German force that flowed toward the Volga was finally defeated by the Red Army in Stalingrad, which today is named Volgograd. On the 19th of November, 1942, the powerful German Army was swallowed up (slowed down? Collapsed in?) by the Russian snow and was surrounded by the Red Army. General Paulus' (?) army surrendered to the Red Army. This German defeat was like (healing to the partisans' bones?), it was like oil to a fire for us. During those months of the fall and all the way through the winter of 1943, we felt for the first time like there was a wind that symbolized a fresh spring (a new start?). We saw points of light through the dark sky. A victory of the forces of light over dark forces.
Generally we had very little outside communications. The only paper we received was the partisan paper that would not come on a regular basis. We didn't know that much about what was occurring far away from our area, and definitely we didn't know what was happening in the front other than what we heard from the radio in the headquarters of the partisan brigade. This would be given to us by the Politruk of the brigade.
One day, the first brigade was called together to celebrate a special occurrence in the front, and that made our hearts warm, and this apathetic situation we usually felt started dispersing, but still we had to go a long way…
It wasn't only because we knew it was a long way that we could hardly celebrate. The main reason was that we felt lonely and orphaned and eaten by our loss. How could we look forward to a better tomorrow without immediately bringing up questions like, "Where should we go and how should we go and to whom? Do we really have a home? Can we really face reality?" We were like a branch that had been cut off its trunk and its roots. Would we not dry up and die?
The Russians and Belarussians among us were truly happy, but we already felt then that our little happiness was covered by a heavy cloud. The hopes and the urges that were awakened as the Germans surrendered in Stalingrad were only a sign of a rosier future, but it was clear that we could achieve this future only through many toils and sacrifices. Soon we found out that the powerful force of the German Army was not yet broken. They seemed to have had unlimited reserves pulled from other European countries that they controlled.
While they were still licking their wounds from the embarrassing defeat, Hitler gave an order for a general attack (to attack on all fronts?), and the headquarters of the Reichswehr launched an initiative in a typically efficient (mechanical? Robotic? thorough?) German way. The idea of a general retreat didn't even come into their minds. For their first target to save their reputation (?), they decided to destroy the partisan forces where ever they could be found. They took it very seriously, realizing that they could not succeed if they did not get rid of the partisans. They realized that anytime they wished, the Red Army could instruct the partisans to separate the German forces from their bases (in the middle? Where the reinforcements were sent?) and disrupt the flow of supplies and reinforcements to the front.
In order to get rid of the partisans, the Germans brought large forces from other locations, even from important front positions. From this large force, which contained some of the best and most sophisticated weapons and tanks, the German Army came to the forest in different areas in an attempt to find a weak link where they could break into the headquarters of the partisan army. The Germans and their assistants (collaborators? Traitors? "Vlasov?") came in large numbers to the area where I was in the middle of May, 1943. We received information that the Germans were buttressing their positions along the length of the train tracks between Smolensk, Minsk, and Borisov, and the train stations of Lushak, Globoki, Dokshitz, and also Dolhinov-Krivich and Vileyka. The announcement came from the main partisan headquarters in our area in the village of Voloki.
In the morning of the 17th of May, they attacked with all their might. All our battalions, including mine, fought them with all their might, but since they had heavy weapons (tanks, artillery) with limitless supplies, we could not stop their advances. A decision was made that we should just try to fight until night came. The headquarters assumed that when night arrived, the enemy would not fight night battles in the forest, and in the darkness we might be able to surprise them.
At first it seemed that the assumption was right. As soon as darkness came, everything quieted down, but still we got an order to retreat while fighting for control of the marsh area Bogomil and Borisov, near Palek and Domsbitz in the direction of Polochek.
During that night, our battalion separated into small units in an attempt to fight the Germans in their back. Meanwhile, we started our retreat. Our attack seemed to prevent the Germans from chasing the main retreating force.
When the Germans renewed their fight the next morning with all their might, our entire battalion (brigade?) was able to retreat to a better situated position while we mined the roads and trails of the forest. The same was done by other battalions.
In the next two weeks, until about the 3rd or 4th of June, almost all the battalions retreated while constantly fighting, slowing down the German force as much as we could. Despite all these battles, the Germans advanced faster than we wished. But still they lost a lot of ammunition, tanks, and soldiers due to the mines we laid, and they paid dearly for their attacks.
Once we reached the swamps, they stopped their chase. They could not bring their heavy machinery and tanks through the marshes, and our situation was greatly improved. Their infantry units that were sent could not enter the marsh area since once they reached that area they started drowning and couldn't go any farther. From our hiding places we could shoot at them. We watched as many of them drowned in the marshes, and others were barely able to retreat.
The artillery that stopped moving when they reached the marshes kept shelling the area, but it was not very productive--they could not reach our hiding places. Once the Germans came to the realization that they could not destroy our force, they decided to make the blockade very tight and to tried to starve us into submission. The ring of the blockade around us became more and more tight, and even during the night we could not leave to get to the villages where we had received food. Starvation spread and our condition was very difficult. We lost all of our energy since morning til evening we were in starving situation…
Like this we passed nights and days, morning and evenings, evenings and mornings. Once in a while, the enemy force would open with heavy artillery and this lasted until the last week of June of 1943. Maybe it was the 25th of June. I still don't know what and how this happened, but one day, we woke up and everything was quiet.
A few people were able to climb with the last of their energy up some tall trees, and they said that in the entire area you couldn't even see one German…
Immediately we realized that for some reason the enemy had let go of this blockade. For some reason, they decided that despite all their might, they would not be able to defeat us, and they returned to their bases, and others went all the way to the front. Later we found out that a few units were able to break through the ring and arrive to the eastern bank of the River Berezina and to launch attacks on the Germans from another direction, something we didn't know at the time. That was the reason that the Germans retreated.
Now our starving units, which had been in a blockade situation for 22 days in the marshlands, organized on the morning of the 28th of June, 1943 to return to the bases where we stood before this attack. Two days before that, we sent a scout unit to check the roads. Also, other units were sent to bring food from the villagers, and I must say that breaking the blockade and the retreat of the Germans made the name of the partisans renowned in the villages. When the units came, the villagers gave food in good spirits and they gave all that was asked for. After we ate and rested and recovered from our horrible conditions, we returned and arrived at dusk of the 30th of June, 1943 to our original bases.
The Revengers (Avengers?) and the Perished…
During the summer of 1943, we were busy with attacks on the German enemies and his collaborators. From our old bases where we continued to live, we left for far away places. Sometimes we went on missions that took a few days. Now we took part in many more sabotage missions and mining the train tracks and the main roads that the Germans used. By doing so we caused our enemies to be fearful, and they lost their confidence. Now the soldiers could only move about in big groups.
As time passed, the partisans became more and more experienced, and also they received much better equipment, both in what they took from the enemies and what they received from the Red Army, which would parachute weapons, ammunition and trainers who gave us fighting instruction as well as political propaganda. All this greatly improved the spirits among the fighters.
Amongst us, the urge to get revenge was burning, and we had to satisfy it. The more we took part in missions and the more we saw our enemy perish, it seemed to increase this urge, and we never found a way to satisfy this urge. This strong urge made many of us brave and encouraged us to take great risks without careful consideration. Many times, it would result in the unnecessary loss of life… Such missions took Mikhail Katzovitz, a brave partisan, a dear and loyal friend, a fighter with not even an ounce of fear. Mikhail Katzovitz, Z"L, Glory and honor to his name.
This took place in July of 1943, in the evening. Our unit was readying for a large mission against the enemy force that arrived near our base, but first I, as well as a few others, was sent to scout to see the enemy force. We went to small village near Borgomil, and there we found out that in one of the homes of the village there were Germans. We didn't know how large the force was or how many weapons they had. We decided not to fight them until we had more information about where they had come from and what their intentions were. But our Mikhail would not be stopped. Against the explicit orders of the person who was responsible for the scouting missions, he took a grenade and ran to this house to take revenge on the enemy, but it seemed that the Germans realized his rapid approach, and they waited for him. As soon as he got close, they opened fire from everywhere and Mikhail fell dead without succeeding in using the grenade. We had to retreat from the village and return to the base. After a few days, we returned to the village and brought the body of our dear friend to the forest for a funeral ceremony. (Had a 21-gun salute?) With grinding teeth, we pierced the air with our gun salute, and we buried our friend in the middle of the forest. We saluted him and our hearts were filled with pain…
A few weeks later, in the beginning of August, 1942, another member of our family from Krivichi was lost. Our good and brave friend, Kopel Shulman fell in battle. We had set mines to blow up a troop train heading for the front, and just as the train was approaching, we realized that the mine would not work. The train was to arrive at any minute. Kopel was very dedicated and loyal, could not accept any failure, so without any hesitation, he ran to that mine and fixed it, but he didn't have time to leave the area. The mine detonated, and a few train cars flew in the air. When they landed, they killed Kopel and two other Jewish partisans whose names I do not remember. Glory and honor to his and their memory.
Under the command of the General Winter, work continued in the different plants. We still saw no end to it, and also the mission of the partisans continued without any big changes. The summer was gone and the fall was behind us, and winter with all its might was one of the most difficult winters ever with heavy snows and freezing winds. Although the conditions were very difficult, we continued with our mission against the enemy force. With bitter jokes, one saying was, "Here, General Winter uses his typical punishment on the partisans for being unorganized, undisciplined, and neglecting to salute…"
At that time, there was an announcement that there would be a large, critical battle that would include large forces during a freezing day. At the end of December, 1943, during lunchtime, a contact came running to our brigade and announced with great detail that a large German force, with large amounts of ammunition and also a field hospital with all its tools, had arrived in the village A., which was about 50 km from our base, halfway between Borgomil and Pleshensitz. Immediately, we sounded our alarms, and all the units that were in our brigade (division?) were alerted. After a short time, the entire brigade, with all its troops were ready for action…
At three in the afternoon, an order was received to advance, and it started walking to that location. Immediately the battalion left in an orderly manner to go on its way. In the base, only six people with a small guarding unit was left. Through the entire night, the different units advanced. When morning light came, we received an order to stand according to our different units and to arrange for camouflage and to rest during the daytime hours. We stayed until 4 in the afternoon, and we continued. Four kilometers away from the village, we stopped again, and it was very dark, and four fighters were sent ahead to scout.
After two hours, two of the scouts returned and gave us information about the guards, and they said that they hardly guarded the place. There was only one guard group at the edge of the village, with only two guards with automatic rifles (submachine guns?) and other weaponry.
The hospital was located at the center of the village, and the German army unit was on the other side of the village. This unit was not yet told how long they were going to stay there. They found this information because there was a big party, a wild party in that village. The Germans were eating and singing and drinking. They were drunk and singing songs. They were dancing and (?) with the girls, very few of whom were from the village. Most were nurses who had come with them. We knew that these conditions would make our mission easy. Brigadier Kaluminko didn't hesitate for even a minute. Quietly he sent an order to the different battalions, and quietly they all stood up, and quickly they arrived at their destinations. They stopped at about 500 meters and waited for instructions.
We continued with the instruction of the two scouts. The village was located on a hill. After a short time, the village was surrounded. The two other scouts, who waited near the guard booth at the edge of the village, listened carefully for the password that the Germans would use with the guards. One time, when some Germans returned, the two scouts mixed with them and they were not noticed. Then they were able to attack the guards in the booth and take their weapons and everything else that was there. They left the guards tied and gagged.
From that point, everything was simple. The village was surrounded and at once, the entire brigade opened fire. While we were shooting, we entered the village. We checked each home, and into every home where there were Germans, grenades were thrown and shots were fired. One of the units went to the other side of the village trying to capture the headquarters of the German unit, but they were not successful since the Germans opened fire. Another unit attacked the hospital unit and took all the supplies. The Germans were in great panic. They didn't know what to do. Their fire was very uncoordinated and confused--they shot at some of their own comrades. Some of them left their weapons and ran off, making easy targets for our fighters.
We stayed in this village for some hours until the Germans were able to awaken from their drunkenness and were able to ask for reinforcements. As soon as we saw flares lighting up the area, we knew that large reinforcements were coming. We could also hear the sounds of tanks and armored vehicles off in the distance. Since we didn't know how large this force would be, Brigadier Kaluminov announced an orderly and rapid retreat while confiscating all weapons and supplies that we could carry. Whatever we couldn't carry we should destroy. He said that we had nothing else to do in this village, since we had achieved our objective with very little loss from our side, so at three in the morning, we split. The Germans started chasing us, but we were told to not return fire, to just run as fast as we could and to only open fire if we encountered Germans in front of us. So like this we ran through the deep snow, dressed in white fur coats that we used as camouflage.
Sometimes you need luck, and sometimes there are miracles in this world. I don't know whether it was luck or a miracle, but not one person was wounded in this chase, particularly lucky was our friend T.S. Her white fur coat was filled with bullet holes yet she was not wounded…
After a quick run through an area of about 10km, we stopped to rest in the middle of the forest, putting up many guards around us. Despite the fact that we were far away from that village, we could still hear from far the sound of shooting, and even the last people to retreat from the brigade arrived here. So we sat there and prepared food and rested. A few people, I amongst them, took the weapons and separated them. Slowly, as time passed, the shooting gradually stopped. We saw it as a sign that the enemy had given up and returned to their bases. We had a large amount of light and medium weapons, and a huge amount of ammunition of different sizes and kinds. Also, we received a few machineguns, maybe two. But the pride of the entire brigade was the hospital supplies that had fallen into our hands, amongst them, surgical tools and very valuable medicines that the partisans did not have, as well as bandages and stretchers to carry the wounded, blankets, and many other things that we greatly lacked.
In this mission, our brigade of partisans by the name of Mikhail Kalinin, ended the year 1943 and celebrated the arrival of 1944.Missions in 1944
As I wrote before, our Sylvester celebration was in the village between Borgomil and Pleshensitz. 1944 was the year of the victory against the dark forces.

Despite certain information that we had heard, we didn't know yet that the liberating army was marching towards our area. The bells didn't yet toll [to announce victory]. Since I assumed that others from Krivichi would tell about missions from the first month of 1944, I will not say much about it. Particularly since my memory is not clear. As far as I remember, my particular unit was busy with small missions, daily sabotage missions. [On the other hand, the Red Army was making advances on all fronts… The author gives more detail about each front.]
One of the main signs for the final victory was the liberation of Kiev in November of 1943. The victories were huge and the Soviets advanced with a steady pace. There was constant movement, but not very rapid movement. In December of 1943, the Red Army started an offensive in the Baltic front and in the Leningrad front. In the middle of January of 1944, they broke the German blockade and liberated Leningrad from a 2-and-a-half year siege. At the end of February, 1944, the Soviets were in control of both Polish and Soviet Volinya [another name for what is now the Ukraine?], and continued from one side to Lubov and on the other to Polsia [west Ukraine, or East Galicia]. Every day, another town would be liberated. Zitamir and Slaboka, Novograd and Voholinsk, Kramnisk, Vatashko, [etc.] and many others. It seemed like the advancement of the Red Army was not to be stopped by the retreating enemies.
These victories on the Ukrainian front also gave new forces to the Red Army units in the Belarussian front. In the beginning of March of 1944, the Red Army started advancing towards Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Germans were kicked out of Smolensk and Rosselbel, and Orsha and Sokolov, but the Germans fortified their positions in Minsk and stubbornly resisted the Soviets. But this was ineffective, as the rest of the Red Army bypassed then. After they liberated towns like Mohilov and Gormel and other towns, there were only little German pockets, with the main pocket in Minsk kept fighting bitterly. But after what Bobrosk and Azula were liberated, the enemy could not hold Minsk anymore, and on the 3rd of June, 1944, the Red Army liberated Minsk, and the Germans started their retreat, which was organized and without panic. They continued fighting the Red Army, which was marching in the direction of Beranovic, Bialystock, and Warsaw.
Even before they retreated from Minsk, the German headquarters decided to set themselves in new defense lines that were more convenient, and they were hoping that they could stop the advance of the Soviets, and from there they could start a new offensive. These new defensive lines were planned according to the Soviet secret service (spies?) near the rivers Nyman, Vilya, and Berezina, on both the east and west banks in the area of Belarus, and the Dvina and its tributaries in the Baltic. This area clearly contained the forests where partisan bases were located, so the main concept that the enemy had in mind was that they must prevent, at all costs, the rapid advance of the Soviets toward Warsaw and Riga.
The partisans in the forest, who became a more and more formidable force as the Soviets advanced towards Belarus, were seen by the Germans as the big obstacle in their plans. They knew that if they didn't succeed in their mission, they would have to retreat and the partisans would chase them and kill them from every side, from the front and from the back. So now their main mission became the clearing all the roads of partisans. They remembered their failure in clearing the forest the year before and decided to use the most careful plans. They must use large forces and close any openings that would give the partisan units a chance to break out, and to use any partisan bases as their own to tighten the ring around the partisans.
Preparations for this battle started in the middle of May, 1944. One day, all the units were told by their contacts about a large enemy force traveling on the train lines between Molodeczno, Borisov, Witbesk and Polochek. From one side, this concentrating of their forces lasted about two weeks. On the 27th of May, 1944, the Germans started heavy attacks from every direction. They started advancing, closing off every trail and road in front of the partisan units. One hundred-twenty thousand troops with the best weapons, with light and medium tanks and other armored vehicles, opened fire. And this fire was like Gehennim. To tell you the truth, the partisan units in this area of eastern Belarus were not much less in numbers than the enemy, but our weapons and our supplies were far inferior in comparison to the German supplies. This fact caused us to carefully watch so that we would not find ourselves in face-to-face battles where our people would have to fight German tanks. We were ordered to retreat while fighting a hit-and-run type of battle, to only disturb the enemy and try to delay his advances as much as possible. After a few days of such stubborn and brave battles, about 100 brigades were told to retreat to the area of the swamps near Tallik.
Already, at that point, some of our forces by the names of Koronza, Kotosov, and Zelniak, whose bases were near Witbesk, Polochin and Polochek, suffered from great lack of food supplies. The enemy chased them from every side and did not let them have any way to reach the villages in the area to receive food. Despite all of that, many of those units kept in high spirits, as people started dying from starvation. They slowed the advances of the enemy by cutting trees and put them in big piles on every road. Also, they put mines everywhere. So, like this they arrived to the area of the swamps. Most of them survived against the enemy that did not stop its shelling. They also used planes to bomb us.
Despite the fact that they were very weak from starvation, they held to their bases in the swamps. They ate whatever plants they could find in the swamps to save themselves, not wishing to be captured, hoping that the Red Army's attack would come soon enough to save them…
There is no way to know what our end would have been if the Red Army had stopped its offensive in our area. On June 23, 1944, the Red Army started a new advance in the Belarussian front and the Baltic front, both in the east and the west. The Soviet planes bombed the German lines day and night. From afar we could hear the sounds of the Soviets. Our hearts (? Spirits lifted). The Germans started retreating. After a few days, we saw the first Soviet scouts, who greeted us as their fighting brothers, and gave us some food from their rations, and like this we were filled with hope and anticipation.
The Battle for the Railroads
From this point on, we felt that every mission, even if it would be the most routine, gray (dull?) mission, would bring our final liberation closer. We must return to the bases that we had retreated from, and from there destroy and sabotage the enemy's war effort as much as we could. We had to return to where we ourselves had put mines and disarm them to get back safely, and then clear the forest of all the Germans who were not able to retreat. We knew that the main roads would be filled by the Red Army on their way to the final attacks that would now surely would come, and our job as fighters of the forest would be to prevent the enemy from regrouping and disrupt their retreat.
When we returned to the base, we found our homes and our bunkers burned to the ground. The hospital that we had built using the loot we had taken from the enemy, we found was completely destroyed. The destruction was total, but our spirits were still good. We diligently worked to repair things. The entire area surrounding Minsk was in the hands of the Red Army. Pleshensitz, which was very near our base, had been cleared of the enemy. We rested and waited for new orders. We knew that we wouldn't stay here for long. Soon we would probably receive instructions to return to our hometowns, to the graves of our brothers and our dear ones and all our martyrs. If I'm not mistaken, this occurred on the 3rd or 4th of July of 1944. Sometime around noon, we received orders from the united headquarters of all the partisan units in our area. All the brigades were ordered to move forward, in a western direction, towards the old border between Poland and the Soviet Union on one side, and for others to move northwest to the border of Latvia (Latvia and Lithuania) and the Soviet Union.
Our duty was to put blockades to prevent the retreating German Army from going west. We were also ordered to destroy all the bridges and the railroad tracks near Molodeczno, north and south of it. Other units were told to destroy the railroads on the way to Latvia in the Dvina area. These missions were named The Battles For the Railroad Tracks. Our entire brigade was divided into different units, and we each received a different bridge and region to take care of.
Two classes with about twenty fighters, and I was the only Jew amongst them, were told to destroy the railroad tracks near Postov (northern Belarus). Our mission was very successful. We reached the places that were pointed to us on a map, and after we mined the places we returned without losses to a new base which was situated near the old Polish-Soviet border. This was the area where the Germans had crossed the Vilia on the way to the forest during their last blockade of the partisans.
Heading these two classes were my childhood friend B.A. and another Jew, W.G. They got to the area of the train station in the town of Globoki in order to destroy the train tracks and other strategic buildings in this area. Soon, five days passed and we didn't receive any information. Since we did not hear from them, we assumed that they encountered Germans and they were in great trouble, but on the 11th of July, at dusk, the entire battalion was called to move within a few hours in the direction of Globoki. Everyone was armed and ready within a short time, and that evening we were walking.
After we had walked about 5 km, we saw two fighters coming toward us. As they came close we realized that they were the demolitions men from the missing unit of B.A. We were all elated that after a few minutes the rest of the unit arrived and announced that they had been very successful in their mission. We were so happy that we didn't know how to celebrate. I hugged my friends with much excitement and blessed each other in Russian to show our happiness. This is what they told us:
When they reached the place where they were supposed to put the explosives, morning was already coming so my friend, without any ability to communicate with the headquarters, decided to wait until the next night to carry out the mission. So they went to the forest to hide, but once again they encountered a problem. The Germans had sent villagers to cut the trees in the forest and to use the tree trunks as obstacles for the approaching Red Army. Not wanting to be caught by the Germans, B.A. ordered the to immediately run to the field and to hide amongst the harvest until darkness came, and they passed the entire day there.
When darkness came, they used their explosives and their mission was successful, but the Germans started chasing them on all the roads. They were very clever and were able to escape, and now they were standing here with us. But I must say that it would be an incomplete story if I only talked about the missions of explosives and the fight for the train tracks as the only mission that we had at that point. New duties were assigned to us in coordination with the Red Army, and now that every day a new area was liberated, there was a need to train local people to take over civil and administrative control of their areas. So for this purpose, the leaders of the partisan movement arrived in each place and tried to put a new face on the image of the partisans amongst the farmers and the local residents.
The Germans' propaganda showed the partisans as ugly terrorists who wanted molest, rob, and kill the local people. So now the Soviet authorities wanted to reeducate us in establishing good relations with the local population. They ordered us to stop confiscating food and other goods from the people. We had to take only the most essential goods and not plunder them. We had to change our image into liberators, not people who benefited from irresponsibly plundering. They aimed to establish an image among the local population that only the partisans had the ability to take care of the safety of the community and to protect their possessions.
As the Germans retreated in defeat, the local population realized that there was no reason to cooperate with them. Not only that, the people who originally collaborated with them started fearing for their future. Everyone who was able to transfer loyalties and join the partisans immediately did it. Another important duty that was assigned to us was to find such collaborators who were now disguised. The Politruks in the different units worked very hard to find people who were energetic and leadership qualities as well as administrative skills. They readied them to take jobs as civil and military administrators in the liberated areas, in order to free the Red Army as much as possible to focus on the fight.
In the middle of July 1944, the town of Globoki and all of its surrounding region was cleared of the enemy. It was then controlled by partisan units. The regular army had already gone ahead to other battles. Some parts of the Revenger, Strombolya, Mastitel, etc. (different partisan units) were already settled in towns and shtetls throughout the region. Other units received control of Dizna and its area. Our unit, the Kalinin Brigade, was settled in the town of Miory near Globoki.
In this area we met with regular Red Army forces who met us as if were just another part of the army. A week passed and we were told to gather in Miory for reorganization. The young people who were in good physical condition were transferred to different units within the Red Army, and the rest were left in town as a police force and to take over the civil administration during the first months of establishing civil order. Our commander, Major Kalimenko, who was promoted to colonel, became the governor of the city and its surrounding region.
Jewish In-Laws in Christian Weddings
In the last week of July 1944, they started giving us short vacations. The purpose was that we should visit our family members and then return to base. The first to be released from the service were the women and the old people. My friend Rashka and my other friend, the partisan T.S., who later became my sister-in-law, were released from their service at the beginning of August of 1942 together with many other women and old partisans. They left in the direction of Krivich, hoping that they might find someone of their family members or friends alive.
I stayed with the unit together with the rest of the men, taking part in routine jobs of patrolling different locations, finding weapons and seeing what would be useful--particularly weapons and vehicles that the Germans had left behind during their retreat. We also looked for folksdeutsches who had collaborated with the enemy and took part in murders and pillaging. Everyone we found, whether they were Polish or Belarussian, was taken to both civil and military courts and according to their deeds, they were either sent to be executed, put in prisons for life, sent to Siberia, or put away for some years. When someone received a death sentence and did not appeal or receive any clemency, they were immediately executed. So now our dear neighbors and friends who took part in the pillaging and killing of Jews received their punishment. And as Jews we could breathe a little easier and receive a little bit of revenge for all the evil we had experienced. I must say that as I write about it, I took part in such revenge and found guilty parties and brought them to justice.
At the beginning of August of 1944, all the partisan units who had fought in the region of Vilna and the entire front of Belarus, both the eastern and western parts, were called for special parades in Globoki, Vileyka. For the main parade in Minsk, all the partisan units joined the Red Army and became part of it. This central parade took place in the most beautiful city center of Minsk. We were joined by renowned battalions of the Red Army who had fought in the fronts of Ukraine and Belarus together with the different partisan units. On the stages of this celebration, we heard excited speeches and songs of our Soviet nation, and everything was going along very fancily.
For some reason, I didn’t really take part in all that. I felt, as most Jewish partisans did, some deep reservations about this celebration. Why? Wasn't this also our holiday? Didn't we get to this happy time where the most horrible of enemies of all generations in the history of the Jews had been dealt a most humiliating defeat? But there was something that stood between us and the excitement of the liberation. It was as if there was a drop of poison in our cups of happiness, drops of blood and tears filled it, and we were like mourners. Once again, like Jewish in-laws at a non-Jew's wedding, I stood the Jewish partisans in the lines of the celebratory parade. They spoke about all of them in the special commemoration. All received glory and honors, Russian and Belarussian, Ukrainian and Polish, Lithuanians and Latvians, and even Tatars. Only the Jews were passed over.
Tens of thousands of Jewish partisans fought in all the areas, but they remained the unnamed soldiers. The reason is that we fought as Russians, Belarussians, Poles and Lithuanians. Despite the fact that the renowned Lithuanian division in the Red Army was made up almost entirely of Jewish people, no recognition for the Jews. Actually, in all the Lithuanian partisan units, the Jews were the majority. Even today, after dozens of years, I still feel as if I was kicked in the teeth (different expression, he uses something about burning mitts), and the bitter taste of this insult that we received stays with us. Even now, during gatherings to commemorate the Holocaust and our community, I still see the tragic pain of our fighters during the victory parades. Rivers and oceans of blood of parents and brothers and cousins and all of our friends and martyred relatives and dear ones, and there was not even a mention of their name. Only mourning mothers who had lost their children and orphans walking around us.
We were like strange and foreign creatures. Enveloped in loneliness and desolation from the depths of agony, we stood in the midst of the thousands of celebrants in a land of victory filled with splendor and (lightning? Is what he uses). It was as if it was not our celebration, as if we had no part in this victory, as if we deserved nothing…
We are not feted amongst the fighting nations. Even a little bit of self-congratulatory spark was undeserving. Are we really so much more guilty than any other nation? Are we so different from others on this land…?
Where my shtetl used to be…
Until the end of December of 1944, I was assigned to the military administration in Miory. Finally, it was my turn to be discharged from my military partisan service, and I was allowed to go home to Krivich. My home that was destroyed and purified of Jews. How empty and desolate the town appeared to me. Most of the Jewish homes were now inhabited by gentiles, from the residents of the town and the surrounding villages--people who took part in the murders and pillaging. I encountered some Jews, Mariyasha and Elie Botwinnik, my comrade in the partisans T.S., Aharon Shulman, and Clara Tauger, who was later to be my partner in life, my wife. Temporarily, as with most of the Jews who returned, I settled in the first home that was available and started looking for jobs. It was strange to acquaint myself with a job of my own will, not forced labor…
Also I started re-taking possessions that had been stolen from my home. Possessions that had been taken from our parents and our dear ones. We all needed at least a roof above our heads and a bed to sleep on, as well as a table and a chair. Amazingly, they looked at us as if we were the thieves and looters. Our "heirs" looked at us with eyes filled with anger and with spite, as if we had taken something that belonged to them…
It was very difficult for us to work in this land which was saturated with the blood of our dear martyrs. It was impossible to continue living in a place where we were surrounded by loss and desolation. We couldn't breathe this air that was filled with hate and blood. Already in the first days, our eyes and souls looked for a place to escape from this environ. We wished to leave the place where we had grown up, which had become a death trap to our parents and our family members. To live in any other place under this sun…
Particularly difficult were the evenings and nights. Friday evenings and Sabbath days we could not rest. The brotherly grave had been turned into a place for the gentiles to pasture their horses and cattle, and wild dogs were running freely amongst the graves. Every corner that we used to love, places where our dreams ran free, like the River Sarbetz, the Boulevard, Vihan Land, and the road to Kotlanka, now became an unending nightmare that not let us rest.
The passages; “Jew, a man of Israel! How can you sit here quietly as the vultures tear apart the remnants of your dear ones? Kept echoing in our ears “Run to where ever your feet will take you! Run to the big desert, to the unending desolation where you can at least roar your bitter roar and violently condemn never-ending pain to all those around you!” Morbid reflections and emotions constantly occupied our souls.
Once again we became filled with bitter hate, the medic Mikolin recited to us every detail in the horrors of all the martyrs of our time, and his stories made our blood boil and shook our nerves until we couldn't take it. We knew that we had a holy mission to put a fence around the brotherly grave and to prevent the entrance of the trespassers with their dogs and horses.
At first we came to the Rasifolkum and we asked for permission and assistance. They gave us permission but no financial assistance. So temporarily we only put barbed wire around the grave. After some weeks we were able to lay down posts and concrete to set up a good fence. But before we did that, we collected all the bones of the martyrs, some that were found in isolated homes, others in fields and in the forest, and we buried all of them in the cemetery while praying and memorializing them.
On the brotherly grave, we prayed "El maleh rahamin…" (God is full of pity…)
We prayed against the Death-filled sky that had witnessed the days of the slaughter. This commemoration gave us some satisfaction. We felt that in just a little way we fulfilled our duties for our dear ones, all those pure souls who were sacrificed for no crime that they committed.
The next question that stood before us was what to do next. The realization was that there was nothing else left for us to do here. There was nothing else tying us to this home, we were like uprooted plants. We must leave, we must run, but the roads were closed. For a while it seemed that there was nothing on our horizon, but deep, deep, somewhere in my soul, something was awakened. An old, subconscious love started whispering to my heart, "There is a place calling me. It is our eternal home, the land of Israel."
Quietly, a new tune awakened from the depths of my heart and kidneys” Od lo avda tikvatno”….. The first line of the Israeli anthem, "Our hope is not lost yet."
My eyes diligently looked for any piece of Yiddish newspaper where I might see something about the land of Israel and my heart could be filled with hope. My ears were always open to hear something from any Jew who passed through town on the way back to their home. One would tell me stories about the Jewish Brigade, and another would talk about the units from the land of Israel that was fighting with the Allies in the Italian campaign and in other fronts in Europe. This news about the Jews of Israel who fought for the final defeat of Hitler was very exciting. I found out that there were some paratroopers who were sent from Israel and parachuted right into the midst of the calamity to help their brothers. I would also listen to the radio to hear about the fight for independence. The land of Israel filled my whole being. But how would I be able to get there? How could I get wings and fly to it? I was so eager to go there that I was even ready to go by foot.
It took a long, long time before this dream took on substance, from a dry, bare bone to having flesh and meat [he describes it in an almost Biblical sense, that it went from a bare bone of a dream to becoming real]. Meanwhile, the family grew. We had daughters who grew up in the Diaspora and became adolescents. Finally, after 13 years we arrived in Israel and started a new life, new struggles, and new obstacles to overcome. We experienced the


The lack of names is due to these people being in the Soviet Union, and they could have gotten in trouble if people had found out that they were Jewish.