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Zalman Uri Gurevitz story
I was born on 8/10/1924 in the little shtetl Kurenets, Vileyka Uzed, Vilna Gubernia, west Belarus. In 1920, the area passed to Polish hands, after more than hundred years of Russian control. Most of the district population was Belarusian, but there were many Poles, Jews, Russians, and even two German families. Kurenets itself was predominantly Jewish, and its population numbered about 1800. Most Jews spoke Yiddish amongst themselves, while the higher class spoke Russian. The majority were poor merchants and tradesmen; few were well off, and none were rich.
During the era between the major wars, there was a strong Jewish Zionist sentiment around town. Many subscribed to Yiddish newspapers like "Mament" and "Haynt". We had a library with some of the best books that Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian and Polish literature had to offer. All the Zionist parties and youth movements were very active and some people were bondist or communist. **** Townspeople with different ideologies fought daily wars.
My father was a political activist, belonging to "Zionim Claliym Alef." He would make speeches during elections to the Zionist congress in all of the synagogues in the area. He was doing the same prior to local elections and elections to the Polish parliament. The town's commitment to education, culture, youth movements, and politics was typical of the area and was strongly influenced by Vilna. But there was something unique about the shtetl. In the dark days, there was a group of young people that demanded action and revenge. They wouldn't be discouraged or apologetic and tirelessly worked for rebellion.
We were students of the daily Hebrew school, Tarbut and members of the socialist Zionist youth movement, HaShomer Hatzair. We spoke Yiddish and Hebrew fluently and dreamed of Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. We were affected by Hitler's rise to power and information about the sad situation of the Jews. Poland also saw a rise in anti-Semitism in the thirties and we were closely watching the Spanish Revolution. All of these factors affected us. We believed in the justice of socialism and desired to accomplish it by living in an Israeli kibbutz. But we were young boys, still a long way from being able to make this a reality. Most of us were born between 1922 and 1924 and our troop leader, Kopel Spektor, was our strongest influence.
That was the state of affairs at the dawn of World War II. Immediately as the war started, in September of 1939, the Soviets invaded our areas and we became part of the USSR. To our disappointment, they closed our Hebrew school, and made it a Yiddish school. They announced that all the Zionist movements were imperialist and they canceled our youth movement. We wanted to be active but didn't know how since our troop leaders weren't around anymore. So we agreed to continue our activities in secret. We were a determined group of people. Amongst us were Benjamin (Nyomka) Shulman, Shimon Zirolnik, Yitzhak Einbender, Mordechai (Motik) Alperovitz, Nachoom Alperovitz, and I. Our original troop leader was Kopel Spektor, a man of all seasons- an athlete, a bookworm, a mathematician, and a generous and dedicated person. He was like a father to us. During the days of the Soviets, he was a technician and a cartographer in the central train station in Molodechno, 30 kilometers from Kurenets. He was graduate of a technical institution in Vilna and an extremely capable man.
His job compelled him to travel throughout the USSR. When he came back from his trips he was very disappointed. He asked Benjamin Shulman to congregate in his house. It was the winter of 1940. We sat in the dark and listened to his sad statements. He told us about Minsk, the capital of Belarus, that had a large Jewish population. He only found one Jewish school there, and when he went to the one Jewish Theater to see "Fiddler on the Roof", they had changed the essence of Tuvia and made him a fighter against Czarism. He found a lot of mixed marriages there and people pulling away from Judaism. Our dream that the Jewish problem would be somehow resolved in the Soviet Union and that the Jewish entity will be recognized as a separate minority was abolished. In conclusion Kopel said, "The Jewish population in the Soviet Union will mix with the general population and in no time there will be no independent Jewish entities".
Nyomka Shulman and Shimon Zirolnik were devout Marxists and hoped that the Soviets would comprehend the nationalist desires of our youth movement. Since both ideologies were so similar, both based on Marxism and with an emphasis on the betterment of society as their first priority, they could not accept the Soviets' rejection.
At the end of the evening Kopel passed the flag to Nyomka Shulman and suggested that we should find a way to get in touch with the movement headquarters in Vilna. Nyomka was an excellent theoretician, a leader type full of energy and zest for life; a short, intelligent guy who was always ready for action. He approached Chaim Yitzhak Zimmerman, an adult that used to be very involved with the youth movement, and asked him to go to Vilna.
Chaim happily agreed. This was not a simple trip. Vilna passed hands from Polish to Lithuanian hands in 1939 and Chaim had to pay large sums of money to border smugglers for an opportunity to travel. In exchange they let him crawl on his hands and knees across the border. He came back five days later and what he told us was very encouraging. The Aliyah to Eretz Israel was continuing. However, the pace was slow and the route was strange (through the USSR and the Far East). But to us teenagers, it sounded very romantic, with a hint of danger, and it filled our hearts with hope, and renewed our sense of commitment.
We had two meeting places. One was the dark room of Nyomka's blind grandmother. The other was the town hall that the Soviets built on Dolhinov Street. There we would meet at the library reading room. First we would collect the daily newspapers like Pravda and Esbastia (you could only get them at the library and you had to read them right there). We then pretended that we were young comsomols (communists). We would crowd the room so there would be no sitting space for anyone else and argue very loudly. Once we established that no one was listening we would talk Zionism. Ironically, this part of the room where we were usually seated was called "The Red Corner". The daily planner in our group was Shimon Zirolnik. He was the oldest and already had a job in the train station. Everyone in town saw him as a strong follower of the Communist Party. He had only finished elementary school, yet managed to educate himself and was very well read, sophisticated, and open minded.
In February of 1940 we had a contact with HaShomer Hatzair from Warsaw. Yosef Kaplan came from Vilna as an ambassador to encourage the Jewish youth in the area. He visited many other shtetls (Globoki, Dunilovitz, Dockshitzi). When he got to Kurenets, he went to Kopel Spektor's house. Since Kopel left town, his family sent Yosef to Nyomka Schulman. Nyomka called us all to gather at his house. The people that came were Chaim Yistshak Zimmerman, Shimon Zirolnik, Motik Alperovitz, Yitzhak Einbender, Nachoom Alperovitz, Ilia Spektor, Ishayau Kramer and I. Yosef told us that there was still some communication with Eretz Israel. We also learnt that the training camps to become Chalutzim moved to Vilna, and that there was some immigration to Israel. He reminded us to retain our commitment to Zionism and most importantly, to maintain the bond
surrounded by the German army and police, who had machine guns. Then a German officer came and gave us a speech about the wonderful thing that had befallen us: life under German authority. We were ordered to obey all members. Finally, he ordered us to destroy all of the paraphernalia of Zionism, except for the flag. This was the last communication we had with the Youth Movement abroad. Yosef slept over at Nyomka's house, and the next day walked over to Vileyka- a town 7 kilometers from Kurenets. I never saw him again.
Soon after, Lithuania became a republic of the Soviets. And for now, our hope for Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael was lost. We continued our studies and our close friendship. In 1941, for Laag Baomer, we convened as a group by the boulder in a field outside of town. It was a quiet, beautiful night. We sat in silence and despair. Spring was all around, but our hearts were lonely. Nyomka took out our special flag and spread it over the boulder. He spoke about the symbolism of the flag and the connection that we all must have. He read from a book of the Youth Movement, and then we sang songs. One of the songs was "Anu Olim V'Sharim". Tears filled our eyes. We were young, sentimental, and melancholy, we lost all hope for Aliya to Eretz Israel . We spontaneously started hugging. We felt as if we were friends for life and death. And that's the way it was.
What to do
It was June, 1941, and a beautiful summer. We had just finished taking our last test at the high school. My mother, who had a lung disease, was in a nursing home. My father, Natan Gurevitz, was both a mother and father to us. He worked very diligently. An active Zionist prior to the Soviets' invasion, he was also a merchant, and was very worried that he would be sent to Siberia. As a result, he decided to walk to Vileyka with his friend and coworker, Zalman Gvint to work at a Soviet soap and shoe polish factory. He never missed a day of work, even if he had to walk in the snow or in the heat of the summer. He did anything to look productive in the eyes of the Soviet authorities. Leah, my older sister, had just graduated from the high school in Vileyka, and my younger brother, Gershon was studying at the Yiddish school that the Soviets had established. And thenÉ
the war started on June 22, 1941. Panic spread though the population. The belief that the renowned Soviet army would swiftly destroy the German army was abolished in two days. Vilna and Molodechno were constantly bombed. The Germans were rapidly approaching and the Soviets were even more rapidly retreating. The confusion and panic was grave. For our family, the worries intensified because we lost touch with our mother. The Soviet politicians and their families were the first to escape east. Trains, trucks and horses pulling buggies full of crying children and housewares left for the east. I asked my father what I should do. He advised me to stay so that mother would have a place to find us. I ran to our meeting place at Nyomka's house. Yitzhak Einbender and Shimon Zirolnik were already there. Riding on our bicycles, we left town, heading east. As I looked back to our little shtetl, I wondered if I would ever see my parents again. We arrived in Ratzke, a small town that was 8 kilometers from Kurenets. We saw many of our townspeople there. We ran into the head of the Kurenets police. He said that there was no need to panic, and that we must return to town. We ignored him and kept going. People crowded the road . Pandemonium was everywhere. Fear was particularly strong in the eyes of the Easterners. They had lived with the Soviet authorities for many years, and were accustomed to obeying orders. Now, there was no one to give them orders. On the evening of June 25, we reached Dolhinov. I wanted to rest there for a short while. I had relatives and friends from the Youth Movement who lived there, and I particularly wanted to see a pretty blonde girl named Bushka Katsavitz that I had met in a Zionist summer camp.
In the central market area I met a Soviet worker name Timsok. He knew my father well. He told me "Son- You are a child, but don't listen to others. Don't procrastinate. Go east." So that's what we did. We wanted to reach Pleshnitz, which was on the other side of the old Polish-Russian border. The situation there was total chaos. That night, only residents that were former Soviet citizens were allowed to go east. The rest were ordered to turn back.
Extremely disappointed, we slept in a field near the border. Early in the morning we saw German planes going to Poloczek. There was a great panic, and we decided to go back to our town. Everywhere on the roads we saw people going east with hope in they eyes, and people returning west with disappointment and a quiet acceptance of the bad situation. All through the ride, Belarussian farmers who were standing on the side of the road, kept mocking us, but they didn't physically hurt us.
On June 26, we arrived in town. The Germans hadn't entered the town yet. The Jewish population was very fearful. The gentiles gathered in the center of the town, and we were afraid that they had come to raid us. But we soon realized that they wanted to prevent the farmers from entering the town. They took a barrel and used it as a podium. The son of Bazil the Footless stood on the barrel and shouted, "We will be with you, Jewish residents of Kurenets. We won't let them touch you." They called us to take part in the congregation, and we all decided to arrange watch groups. Mendel, the son of Henia Motosov, marched us to the house of Reshka Alperovitz, the former headquarters of the Soviet police. We found rifles and ammunition there. The rifles were divided among the young people who knew how to use them. Shostakovitz, the Belarussian doctor that was later a German sympathizer, was at that moment on the side of the Jews. He organized patrols of gentiles and Jews to patrol the town. I was stationed at a watch point near the railroad, together with Eliyahu Spektor. The farmers started coming with horse and buggies. We told them that they couldn't enter town and that if they did, we would shoot them. They all left, and for two days, there was silence in the area. But then the town's gentiles started robbing the Soviets' storage areas and a few of them also robed some Jewish homes.
That was the situation until the 28th of June. And then, the German army paraded through the town on motorcycles and cars. The gentile citizens of the town held flowers in their hand, and gave them bread and salt. Immediately, the Germans ordered to return all weapons, and told us that whoever refused would be shot to death. We returned our weapons.
Among the people who returned the weapons were two Shimon Zimmermans. One was the son of Yosha, and one was the son of Yermiau (they were cousins). The Germans took them to a nearby village and killed them. They were the town's first victims. The Germans announced that every Jewish man from ages 16-60 had to be in the center of town at 1:00 PM sharp. Anyone that didn't attend would be shot immediately. So from 1:00, to 3:00, Grandfathers, fathers, and teenagers stood in the center of town instructions, and anyone that would not do so, would be shot to death.
They told us to immediately choose Jewish representatives, or Judenrat. The Jews started calling names of prior representatives, like my father, (Natan Gurevitz), Zalman Gvint, Shabty Gordon, Gershon Oyeshisky and Dov Einbender, but they all declined the offer. They chose Shotz, a Jewish refugee from Austria as the head of the Judenrat. We were told we must participate in forced labor, we must wear a Jewish star, we weren't to walk on the sidewalk, and we were not supposed to congregate with or talk to gentiles, andÉ.. !!! Kopel Spektor had just returned to Kurenets, so we asked him to secretly meet us in a hideaway on June 30. This was our first meeting since the German occupation. The main question on our mind was "What are we going to do?". We all came to the same conclusion: we must fight the Nazis. We were only 17 and 18, and we were still na•ve enough to believe that there was something we could do. We believed in the slogans of the Youth Movement about our collective and personal responsibilities. Kopel knew that the situation was grave, but didn't try to stop us. All he said was "I so hope that you will succeed". We devised a practical plan. Firstly, we were to collect weapons and organize a Partisan group. Secondly, Shimon Zirolnik suggested that we print flyers urging people to fight the Nazis. Nachoom Alperovitz, who prior to the 'Soviet time', had worked in a printing office, decided to organize this. Lastly, and most importantly we would try to find other people that could join us. We hoped, in particular, to contact the Russian resistance.
As we were leaving we ran into Yosef Zukerman he told us that during the Russian retreat he noticed a soldier throwing his gun in the marshy area next to town, we went there and found a gun with three bullets- we had our first weapon! At the end of July a transportation camp for war prisoners was established in Kurenets. Every evening thousands of POWs would come walking from Dolhinov, and at night they would sleep on the ground at the meat market. The next morning the Germans would force them to walk to Molodechno. Most of the POWs were in horrible shape: wounded, sick and starving. The road between Dolhinov and Kurenitz was filled with corpses. We all wondered how ten German soldiers could lead two thousand young Russian soldiers through thick woods with only a few, isolated attempts at escape. We asked ourselves, "How could that be?"
Just around that time, we found out that all the Jewish men of Vileyka had been killed. On July 12, 1941 signs were put all over Vileyka notifying them that all Jews age fifteen to fifty must report at the 'big synagogue' at ten in the morning. These Jewish men and boys were told that they would be taken to work. Instead, they were taken to the woods, slaughtered and buried.
Seeing death all around us was unbearable. We wanted to help the POWs, so we arranged, through Shotzs, a job for ourselves at the transportation camp supplying water to the prisoners. If the Germans thought that we gave them too large an amount of water, they beat us severely. Our fate was worse, if the Germans suspected that we had talked to the prisoners. However, we managed to point some of the prisoners to a pile of clothes which they put on while laying down pretending to sleep. And when we left the camp, they mixed with us and managed to escape. One of the escapees, Vlodia, later became one of the leaders of our resistance group.
One day Chaim Sozkover approached Eliyahu Alperovitz. He told him about a rifle he had hidden deep in the woods and said "You young ones will need it." My aunt Fiska Kastrel Alperovitz, Nachoom's mother, was a woman in her fifties. She was different from most women: full of energy and extremely brave. During the time of German occupation, her slogan was, "We must do something." She encouraged her son to fight the Nazis anyway he could. She immediately volunteered to bring the rifle. The next evening, Fiska, Nachoom and I started walking toward the area were the rifle was hidden. Fiska walked ahead, and we followed a few steps behind. Suddenly she stopped and we could see her walking down to the river, trying to hide behind the trees. She took a huge hay sack off her back and she started pulling something very long. It was the rifle. She put it in the hay sack, but it was too long and you could see the tip of it sticking out of the sack. She started walking towards the woods and we followed her to the front yard of Moshe the woodsman. We did not know what to do. We continued, with our journey planned in two stages. First, we ducked through the pigs alley. Pesia carried the knapsack all by herself. From there we took it to our hiding place. She was fearless. We walked right next to her to hide the rifle from view. We safely crossed the market place and immediately hid the rifle in Nachoom's cow shed, next to our house. Now we had a gun with 3 bullet and a rifle with no bullets.
We decided to make fliers to encourage the population to fight the Germans. Shimon Zirolnik made a primitive printing press. Our problem was how to get the printing letter stencils. There were no letters in Kurenets so we decided to steal them from the printing house in Vileyka that was now used by the Germans. We found out that Nachoom's friend Yosef Norman worked there. We visited Shotzs from the Judenrat and demanded that Nachoom be taken with the first labor group of Kurintzers to be sent to work in Vileyka. Shotzs agreed. Nachoom went to the camp. There he met Yosef Norman, and Yosef agreed to be a member of our underground group. Three days later a little package was ready for Nachoom, and in it was the whole alphabet, and everything else we needed. Yosef aquired the package of printing letters under very dangerous circumstances. He knew that he would be shot on the spot if revealed, but he continued transferring printing material. Pesiah, Nachoom's mother sewed an apron with little pockets, each contained a different letter so Nachoom could put it on without it looking suspicious and also it could be quickly hidden. We made a printing room in the cowshed and next to it we built a hiding area deep in the ground. We started printing. Shimon Zirolnik planned our first flier but soon after he was imprisoned with other Jews with the suspicion that he was a communist. He was immediately taken and no one knew where to. A few weeks later his parents got a letter from Grodno from a prison camp for communist. In his letter he asked his parents to say "hi" to his boys and this is how our older friend was taken to his death.
Our house became the center of underground activities. My father was very worried about the Jews' fate and many times would quarrel with me. He said " I don't want the shtetle to be annihilated because of my son." But when he said it I could see some pride in his eyes. He never forbade me to participate in the resistance, just begged. So in the end of August our first fliers were posted. It read, "Farmer, keep your bread for yourself and for your heroic brothers that fight the horrible Nazi invaders. Not one seed to the Germans! Death to Hitler!" Shimon Zirolnik managed to post the flier just before he was arrested. We made hundreds of fliers and posted them in the villages next to Kurenets. The fliers made deep impressions on the communities around Kurenets. The rumors were that there was a large group of underground fighters in the area. Some of the Jews in town knew we were behind the resistance movement and saw us as saviors. Others denounced us as crazy and believed we would cause the annihilation of the shtetle. Politically being seen as a united group improved our relations with the Judenrat. We appeared as an organized entity, and they sent us where ever we requested.
The mayor of the town at that time was a Polish man named Matorose. Some years earlier at the time of the Polish rule he was the head master of the elementary school in Kurenets. Nyomka Shulman was then his favorite student. Nyomka approached him and asked to get a job as a official delivery man and assistant to the mayor. Matorose gave Nyomka the keys to the storage areas where there was supply of salt, gasoline and other goods. Nachoom got a job as a janitor and they both got official papers showing they were allowed to be around the restricted areas.
Nyomka told me to try to contact the non-Jewish residents in the district that were communist sympathizers and to find out if there is organized resistance. The first person that came to my mind was a relative of our housekeeper, Vera. He was the director of a factory at the time of the communists. Luckily, when I went to Vera and explained to her that I was looking for a hiding place for our family, she said she had a relative Andre Volinitz, who was also hiding from the Germans. I knew he would not betray me because we had the same enemy. I went to meet him in the little village Zoletki. He was sitting in a barn holding a rifle and a gun . He told me about himself. He was born in that very village. In 1934 he joined the Communist Party in Belarus and was eventually arrested for his communist activities he was imprisoned for five years. When the Communists took over they made him the director of a factory. Now he was in a similar situation to ours, hiding and trying to connect with the underground resistance in the area. When I told him about our group he was hesitant at first. I was the son of an owner of a store and he could not believe I would want to fight for the Soviets. I explained to him that our common enemy the Germans made all Jews want to join the Soviets in their fight against them. Anyway, in the end he agreed to head our group and to help us become underground fighters. We made an arrangement to meet again at the house of Ivan Shirutzin from Volkoveshtzina. The next day I went to Ivan Shirutzin and asked him how we could get weapons. He told me we could get weapons in exchange for salt and kerosene. Farmers that were connected with the communists started coming to town and Nyomka that had forged the signature of Matorose gave them big bags of salt. In exchange we got rifles. The problem was how to bring the rifles to Kurenets. The first rifle was delivered by Motik and me. At night Motif Alperovitz and I snuck out of town ignoring curfew hours. we took the very large rifle from the house of a communist farmer, and put it in a nap sack and at 3 in the morning we started back to Kurenitz. The gentiles could not believe seeing us Jews walking during curfew It was a miracle we were not caught. The next day the farmer brought us 80 bullets for the other rifle we had.
Sometime after we distributed the fliers Nachoom had a visit from a young woman, she looked like a typical farm girl. Although she had black hair she spoke and looked like a shiksa. Her name was Berta Dimenstien. She was a Jew from the village Kolofi. She had some underground connection with Ivan from Volkoveshtzina. Prior to the war she was a member of HaShomer Hatzair. She said that she would be our main contact with the underground. She asked to print some fliers for her troop. She told Nachoom that she would come back the next day to get the fliers. Nachoom immediately called Eliyahu Alperovitz, Yitzhak Einbender, Nyomka Shulman and I to get together because he was worried that this arrangement was a trap. We argued a bit and then decided to take a chance and make the fliers. The next day when she returned I was present and immediately recognized her and knew everything was fine. Many years later I found out that Yosef Norman sent her to us.
From then on she met us every few days, she connected us with Motyokavitz, a communist youth we knew from our school. In September there was a meeting of the underground in Volkovishtzena. Nyomka insisted that we attend. The code word was "Vlodia." Nyomka took the gun that he had just exchanged for four salt bags with the main dealer in the area, Kostia from Litvinki. The meeting took place in the small chapel in Volkovishtzena. Commissar Vlodia the POW that we helped escape was the main organizer. They were planning to go to the woods at the end of 1941.
Now we belonged to a real organization and we were part of the collective fight against the Nazis. We were ecstatic. We were too naive to realize that these were individual resistance groups that at this point were not connected to the USSR. We continued with the fliers and searching for weapons. Itzka Rider told us that Bogdanyook, the guard of the train station in Kurenets had a "Browning". Nyomka Shulman was becoming our leader. He decided that we would take Bogdanyooks' gun. Afraid to be recognized we sent one of Vlodia's men, Soborov to go Bogdanyooks house. Soborov enter the house and threatened Bogdanyook and was able to get his gun. All the weapons that we acquired were hidden in our house.
The whole month my father was depressed, he could not get in touch with my mother. Then Kopelovitz, a Jew from Kurenets, told us that after the Germans invaded, on their way back to town from the nursing home. Mother died of starvation. They buried her in Ivia. Our beloved mother had joined the group of victims of the Nazi occupation.
My father started walking around the house in deep depression. After we heard the news of 54 Kurenitz Jews killed for being Communists, my father and I had a conversation. He said, "Son who knows maybe your way is the right way, they will kill us all. Neither god nor the Judenrat can save us, all we are left with is revenge."
Going from Kurenitz to Volkovishtzena and back became more and more complicated and dangerous. Berta who looked like a Christian, took it on herself to distribute the fliers that Nachoom printed and Nyomka Shulman and Vlodia edited.
Going from Kurenitz to Volkovishtzena and back became more and more complicated and dangerous. Berta who looked like a Christian, took it on herself to distribute the fliers that Nachoom printed and Nyomka Shulman and Vlodia edited. In the beginning of Autumn a new member joined our group. His name was Noach Dinnerstien. He was an alumni of HaShomer Hatzair in Vileyka. In 1939 he was a soldier in the Polish army, When the Germans invaded, he was a POW and managed to escape and return home during the Soviet times. Just before the German invasion he became a soldier in the soviet army and was sent to Bialistok. Once again he was POW, he managed to escaped from the Germans and returned to Vileyka. When he returned he stayed in hiding. One day he went down from is hiding place and learned that all the men were taken by the Germans. He then left to stay with relatives in Kurenets. Finally we had a man in our midst that was trained as a soldier. He taught us how to take a rifle apart, how to oil it, put it back together and to use it. Later Noach Dinnerstien became a renown partisan who was eventually killed in action. We decided to add some more people to our troop; Chayim Yitzhak Zimmerman and Yankale Alporevitch, two brothers; Salim and Moshe Shnitzer, sons of a family of refugees from Poland who in their escape from the Nazis somehow ended in Kurenitz. Later on we added Shimon, son of Zishka Shimon Meirs' Alperovich, one of the most educated men in town, Shimon became a great fighter but to our regret he was killed just before liberation. Vlodia asked us to see if the Jewish doctor Sorinski would join our group. He agreed and later on he became a doctor for the partisans in the forest.
After the Actzia, where the Germans killed 54 Jews saying that they were killed for being communist the Judenrat warned my father and other parents of our underground members, telling of the threat we posed to all the town Jews by our activities. When we heard about it, we stormed into the meeting with two drawn guns. We threatened to kill whoever threaten our families. This helped and they never directly approached us again. The head of police, Adamovitz thou, told my father that he saw me outside of town past curfew hours and explained how this behavior could cause both mine and my father's death. We decided to be less conspicuous and to use more covert tactics.
On November 1, nine members of Vlodia's troop all of whom had once been POW's, left for the forest. They called the troop "Sovietico Belarus", which means for Soviet Byelorussia. The highest officer was Volinitz and the commissar was Vlodia Betinov. They had seven rifles, two machine guns and 3 automatic weapons. Occasionally this group would carry terrorist actions. But at that point, mostly they distributed fliers and communicated with other groups. The winter of 1942 was a rough, harsh one. With the help of Michael Basilic, we attained a radio and we started getting information from the Soviets. We printed the information and distributed it around the villages. The German EsDe looked every where for the printing place. They never guessed it was 100 meters from the local police and was being generated by Jews. On December 20, 1941 we got the order from Berta to come on the 26 to Kolofi. This was the first general meeting of everyone that was connected to Vlodia.
One of Vlodia's men dressed as a policeman and took Noach Dinnerstien, Eliyahu Alperovich, Yitzhak Einbender, Nyomka Shulman, Yankale Alporevitch and I . We pretended we were prisoners going to work in the Vileyka camp, the partisan was very convincing in his roll as a cop. When we arrived we had to hide for many hours till night time came. All together there were about 40 people at the meeting. They pretended that it was a dance party. Inside everyone was armed. Berta introduced Vlodia as the commissar of the partisan Otriad. Vlodka said we must forget each others names, each one will get a nick name. we would work secretly, and most importantly make sure that no traitors infiltrated our group. We were told to learn how to fight in the same way the red army fought at the gates of Moscow. We elected representatives for Vileyka and Kurenitz. They were Uri Bolshov, Berta Dimenstien, Nikoli Motyokavitz, Vladimir Sovitz and Vlodia Betinov. Assigned to the terrorist missions were Motyokavitz, Sokolov, Bolshov, Zalman Gurevitch (me), Yakov Alperovich and Vladimir Sovitch. For the flier printing and distributing, Berta Dimenstien, Nachoom Alperovitz, Noah Dinerstien and Yitzhak Einbender and Ivan Shirutzin were assigned. The radio was the responsibility of Michael Baslik. Benjamin Shulman, Vladimir and Uri Shl;kj;l, would be responsible for food clothing and supplies and transferring them to the woods and to also organize a secret youth resistance troop. On January 20, 1942 Nachoom printed fliers saying, " Fellow Belarussian brothers, farmers and teenagers, the red army destroyed the Nazis in the gates of Moscow and threw them west. The fairytale of the undefeatable Nazis is a lye. The partisans are doing everything to help the red army with its fight against the Fascists. We call unto you to refuse the orders of the Nazis, blowup the bridges, destroy the telephone and electricity, clean the soviet land from the Nazi filth. Death to the Fascist Occupant." Meanwhile Nachoom got a job in the printing press in Vileyka and under the nose of the head of the printing house he was able to print fliers and to steal printing materials. These materials were all transferred to Ivan in Volkovishtzena.
On Feb. 3, 1942 I got an order to blow up the bridge near the grain mill that belonged to Mendel Dinerstien. Yitzhak Einbender, Nachoom, some non-Jews partisans and I crossed the street Vilyeka and continued across the forest and the frozen wet lands and approached the mill. At eleven at night we met with the Kolofi underground members, gave them the explosives and continued to the train tracks. Sokolov connected the explosives to the train tracks, I lined the wire across the trucks to the other side, went down the hill and pulled the wire about twenty meters. We lit the wire and a few minutes later there was a huge explosion. We immediately left. first we went to the synagogue and from there we all separated to our homes. When I got home my father was at the door standing there crying. He asked if I was there I shook my head and said nothing. Another group that was headed by Noah Dinerstien and included Nyomka Shulman and Motik Alporevitch was suppose to do the same operation to another bridge in the village of Ratzke. Both missions were scheduled for exactly 11 o'clock. I didn't hear an explosion from Ratzke and was very worried. But at two in the morning I heard a huge explosion. The next day Nyomka said that the string was not dry enough so they went to a farm and took some shavings of wood to dry the string and that is why the mission was delayed. The Germans never suspected the Jews, they searched the villages and killed some farmers and some ex POW's that they found working for the farmers.
On Feb. 15 we met with Vlodia and a decision was made that on the 23 of Feb, the day of the red army, we would blow up the main storage house of the Germans. Nyomka insisted at first that we take part in that mission. Vlodia objected using the same reasoning as the Judenrat did, that if they catch one Jew belonging to the underground they will immediately kill all the Jews. He said "I will agree that you will join us at missions in the fields and villages, but not in town". On Feb. 23, Volinitz people blew up the main storage area that was also used to gather cows to later be sent to Germany. 1000 cows were burned to death. The fire lasted all night and Volinitz people also succeeded to steal a lot of flour, rice and other supplies and can goods. They brought it all to the partisan base.
Noach Dinerstien and I were sent to look for a suitable place for an underground base. We went to Soroka, a Christian friend of my father from the village Ob. We told him we would like to find a base and he promised to talk to a friend of his who was a woodsman. Meanwhile we walked to the next village, Nieke. We approached Old Mullah, Noah Dinnerstien's uncle and asked him to arrange a meeting with the young Jews of the area. We hoped that they would join the underground because they grew up in the woods and knew every trail. Mullah was thrilled and shortly he gathered some young men. They immediately wanted to help. One of them Yerachmiel suggested that he would also talk to some Jews from Kribitz and Dolhinov who worked in the train station Kanahanina.
The forester looked for a suitable place for the base. He went to Nyomka and got some salt for payment for his search but soon after the German's killed the woodsman. Someone must have informed the Germans.
Yerachmiel did go to Kanahanina and he told us how the Jews there were practically starving so we asked Shots from the Judenrat to send them some food. We also encouraged them to escape. Some of them did and later they joined the partisans in East Belarus. Some years later I met two of them. On was Bushka Kalkovitz that I knew from Dolhinov. The other was Motka Bengin who I met at the end of 1944 at the Minsk University. He was a professor of Rhetoric in the low faculty where I was later a student.
Meanwhile, we were collecting weapons and warm clothes in preparation of our departure to the forest. On May 3, 1942 Noah and Berta left for the woods. At the same time they took most of our weapons with them. On May 5, 1942 we were contacted by Xina bitzon, she was our new intermediary. She said that at this point only three people could go. We decided that Nachoom with his printing press, Eliyahu Alporevitch and I would go now and the rest of the troop will stay under the command of Nyomka Shulman. At night we hid in the woods and only early in the morning, Berta and another partisan met us and took us to join the rest of the partisans. To a camp between tzintzivi and a little village Zlotki. The forest was very misty and all the zimlankas, (deep in the ground hiding places) were used so we just lied under a pine tree and immediately fell asleep. When we woke up we went to Volinitz and demanded that he give us our weapons. He explained that the Otriad (troop) numbers 30 people and that there are not enough weapons for everyone. Meanwhile he gave us rifles that were not nearly as good as our rifles. At night 16 people went on a mission but they didn't let us join because we were too new. Still while I was guarding the camp I felt great. for the first time since the German occupation I was free. The woods were beautiful. I was not a "nobody" any longer and now I could revengeÉ
One day Motyokavitz voluntarily went to work for the Germans to be a double agent. He told us of a German patrol of policemen that goes everyday between Vileyka and Luban riding bicycles. We put a unit on the road and when they went through we shot them and took 11 rifles and 4 hand guns and police clothing. The head of the underground was becoming more ambitious and decided to destroy a bridge on the river Villia on the main road to Molodechno. Motiyokevitch situated himself as a guard on the bridge. On the 13 of June everyone in our base but our guards went to the Villia river. We watched as three policemen, Motiyokevitch, Volinitz, and Shetonov, all connected to the partisans, left their posts. Motiyokevitch tip his hat as a signal and from a hiding place two partisans walked out and they were dressed with German uniforms. They walked directly to the bridge. The two policemen from the Molodechno side of the bridge approached the impostors and left only one policeman guarding with a machine gun. Shetonov lifted his rifle and hit him on his head. The two partisans continued walking from the Vileyka side and joined Motiyokevitch. Motiyokevitch and Volinitz killed one of the German guards and threw him to the river. Shetonov jumped the German next to the machine gun but he started screaming. When the rest of the Germans and policemen heard the screams they jumped out of the building. We immediately started shooting. The partisans on the bridge started throwing grenades. We took a lot of weapons from the wounded andkilled Germans. We lit the wooden bridge an fire. 15 Germans and Policemen were killed. We knew that the Germans would not forget that and we should plan for a counter attack. On the 27n of June we heard shots from about x a km from our camp and knew an attack was coming.
The First Battle
Everyone was in a panic. The head of the brigade Volinitz immediately gathered us. We were 37 in total, ready for battle. One of the guards came running and told us that the Germans had surrounded the camp and it seemed that someone who knows us had shown them the way. I had one gun and two grenades. Volinitz ordered us to separate to four groups. Nachoom and I were in Vlodia's group. The other groups were commanded by Volinitz, Brazovbiski and Novogin. Each group split in a diameter of about 70 meters from the camp and crouched on the ground. Our group had one machine gun and ammunition and some rifles. Meanwhile the shots stopped, the guards joined the groups.
Only half an hour later we started seeing Germans. They walked in a chain formation protected by heavy fire attack. Then they lied down and waited for shots in response. They did the same three times. They were very close to Volinitz's troop and after awhile we heard our guys shooting. Immediately as the Germans heard the firing they began throwing grenades. They kept advancing, reached Norvitz group who also began firing at the Germans. Then the Germans approached us. When they reached about 30 meters away we were given the orders to fire. We saw some Germans fall down but others kept advancing closer and closer. Then they quite. The Germans were digging trenches. We knew we could not fight them so Vlodia gave the order to retreated. All the other groups retreated as well. We all separated and hid in different areas. I was with Vlodia and Nachoom until the evening came.
When it got dark we returned to the camp. The German's had left the area. The hiding places were left alone but the kitchen was burned, the food destroyed and the printing press thrown away. Near the radio we saw a body. Vlodia turned his lamp and we saw that it was our dear friend Eliyahu son of Reuven- Zishka Alporevitch with a bullet in his head. We couldn't find anyone else so Vlodia decided to retreat in the direction Krelietza. He was sure the Germans would return the next day to clear out the base. From far away we heard shots so Nachoom went to see what was happening. We waited x an hour and he did not return. We did not know what to do. Vlodia told me that I must return to Kurenitz and he would return to Volkovishtzena and after he finds out more information he will send Berta or Xina to get me. I returned to Kurenitz with one gun in my pocket. My family was ecstatic. They told me that Nachoom arrived earlier. My father told Nyomka that I returned and he came over with Yitzhak. He decided that we must be seen in town.
The first thing I did was to go Reuven-Zishka Alperovitz and tell him about his son death. We sat together and cried. Reuven-Zishka never forgave me for taking his young son to the woods. The Judenrat paid some money to the woodsman Silak so he would not tell the Germans that the deceased was a Jew from Kurenitz. Silak told Sina from the Judenrat that Eliyahu was wounded during the battle and the Germans investigated him about the partisans. Elik told them that there were hundreds of partisans with a lot of weapons. After a short time they shot him in the head. Silak never told the Germans who Elik was but he was the one that brought the Germans to the area for which he was punished later. But that is another story I will tell you about later.
After that tzintzivi bottle our partisan head quarters realized it was not logical to put our base so near German bases. They decided to move east near Plaschesnitz. There they first joined the Otriad Brava and eventually with Otriad Distival they became part of Diadia vasia. Meanwhile we were waiting in Kurenitz for some communication. Most of the weapons we collected went with the Otriad. We did have some weapons that Nyomka managed to keep, not fully trusting the gentiles as to let go of our entire collection. He also purchased some new guns from Kostia. On July 5 Nikoli Shirotzin's wife came to me and told me that the Otriad went East and at this point they had to leave about 40 people in our area. She promised that in a about 2 weeks they would collect the rest of us and take us east.
Every week we would go to Volkovishtzena to see if there is news from the Otriad. One time Nachoom went and he run into Berta with another partisan named Vorbviov. Vorbviov told Nachoom to join them at once to go east. Nachoom refused, he said he must get the rest of the guys. Nachoom returned and sent his mother to Nyomka. Meanwhile Xina bitzon arrived to take us, Nachoom, Nyomka Shulman and Yitzhak Einbender looked for me but couldn't find me so they left a note to meet them in Volkovishtzena. In the evening as soon as I got the note I went to meet them. But it was too late. They had already left.
So now from the old troop only Chayim Yitzhak Zimmerman, Motik Alporevitch and I were around. It was already the middle of August and there is no communication. Most of the Jews that were left in the area were killed and we knew that Kurenitz turn was approaching. On Aug. 24 Motik and I went to Volkovishtzena hoping that we could make some communication with the resistance. Ivan said that Berta did come once looking for us but she had not returned. We decided to do something on our own. We went to Soroka in the village of Hog, and he told us that in the woods there were some Jews from Nieke. He also heard that there were partisans there but he never saw them. We decided to leave for the Pushtza (deep in the wood area that the partisans used for their bases) on the 20 of Sep. We were all prepared and thenÉ
Lately I was sleeping in a hide out and I was doing the same on Sep. 9. At two in the morning Moshe Alporevitch our neighbor came to our house. He was very frightened, he told us that from his window across from the police station he saw a few hundred police men in cars and from what he understood today was going to be the day of slaughter. My father and sister and brother and the family of Moshe Alporevitch decided to hide in that sacharon (hiding place). I said I was not staying and would go at once to Volkovishtzena or the woods. I took my rifle and a gun, dressed very warmly and carried a few thing I prepared ahead for our departure to the forest. I left from the vegetable garden to the direction to the fields that would take me to the forest Savina. The fog was thick. At the edge of the field I saw many shadows running. Some of our troop members joined me; the two brothers Salim and Moshio Shnitzer, we were also joined by Chayim Shletzer, Chayim Alporevitch and 16 years old Zalman son of Moshe Alporevitch that later joined the Red Army. They all begged me to take them with me . They thought they would be safer because I know my way out. We started towards the fields, we crossed the roads circling the town and when we were two hundred meters away there was a bombardment of shots from all sides. From afar we could see the shadows of policemen circling the town. There was a distance of 20 meters between each. We immediately lied down and started crawling to the direction of Savina. But there was no chance to cross the ring of soldiers. Luckily for us the fog was very thick so we started crawling towards Vileyka street where only Christians lived. I hoped that there I would not find so many policemen. But I was wrong. It was clear now that the whole town was surrounded and that there was no way out. So I decided to go to one of the Christians barn hoping they would not search there. Three of the barns were locked. The fourth one was open. As I found out later it was Ingale Biruk's barn. We went on top of the hay that was all the way to the ceiling and we hid deep inside it. When I reached the barn I realized that Zalman was lost. Many hours past and we had heard shots from everywhere and that was the way we passed the night. At 8 in the morning we heard the sound of footsteps. Someone came inside, walked on top of the hay, but then left. We heard him lock the door.
All day long we heard shouts, cries and shots. The air was filled with the smell of burned bodies. We wanted to scream but we had to be quite. We waited for night to come to try to escape. At 11 o'clock at night we heard the door open and then close. We heard whispers but we could not make out what was said. It lasted a long time. At the beginning I thought it was a couple making love. I decided to leave the barn. We started rolling form the top of the hay and all of a sudden I heard Yiddish words and people running to the direction of the locked door. I understood they were Jews and I yelled to them in Yiddish, "don't run." They stopped and to my surprise they were my mother's brother Gershon Iyashivski, his wife Etta and their two children, Yochevet, Etta's sister with a child and their father Zalman Mendel Zipelevitch who was lying on the hay dyeing. They told me that the gentile Ingale Biruk knew about their hiding place and helped them as he promised and brought them here. Ingle knew that there were some other Jews hiding in his barn so he locked the door after us knowing that the Police would not look in locked barns. I didn't know what to do. Little children and sick men. I offered my uncle to join us. He answered, " No Zalman, you are a partisan, but where would I with little children go, how could I leave Zalman Mendel in such a state." We kissed and while crying he said sounding very fatalistic, "My dear you will be saved but we are lost, say Kaddish after us. " We broke the door and left towards the woods. We heard shots but they were not after us. After 1 km we started running. The forest was 50-600 meters away. Then I saw a man running towards us, it was Shimon son of Zishka Alperovitz, he was a member of our troop. He joined us and we entered the Savina forest.
In the Deep Woods
my father and I had an agreement that if anyone would be saved from the Actzia the meeting place would be at his good friend the Christian Yoshekevitz from Borodino. I took the whole group to Yoshekevitz. I knocked on the window and sounding like a partisan I demanded to open the door. He recognized my voice and told me that he heard they killed Kurenitz' Jews and he was waiting for my father the whole day but so far he had not arrived. I asked him to go to Kurenitz and find out what had happened to my family. He gave us food and showed us a hiding place in the small forest not far from his house.
In the morning he went to Kurenitz and later returned with horror stories. Concerning my father and my family he said he couldn't find them but the gentiles told him that Natan Gurevitch family was not amongst the dead. He told us a little bit of what he heard of the day of slaughter. How they took the beautiful girl Sarah, daughter of Bat-sheva and smashed her head against the wall. He told us of our teenage friend, Chiale sosonoski that fought the German who took her, scratched his face and shouted, "The day of revenge would come." He said that many Jews escaped and he saw many gentile residents of Kurenitz going from house to house taking out the floors and looking for hidden treasures. I decided to stay for a few days in the little forest until I find out what happened to my family. The rest of the group decided to wait too. On the third day Shimon went to get some food from Yoshekevitz and found out that my family was alive and here in the woods. And they were with Moshe Alperovich family. I started looking for them and immediately found them. We were all ecstatic, kissed and cried. The whole family was saved.
I stayed in the woods for another day and then walked with Salim To Volkovishtzena to see if there was any news from the partisans. We couldn't find any of our connection. The Germans and the police were searching for suspects in all the villages and all the men escaped. Ivan's wife was arrested.
Salim and Shimon left us to check the situation in the deep forests, they promised to return and take the rest of the group to the deeper woods in Hog. At night I returned to Volkovishtzena and I found Berta. She told me what had happened with the Otriad. about Noah Dinerstien that was fighting with the partisans in the east. She also saw Nyomka Shulman going east. She said that Nachoom Alperovich, Nyomka Shulman, Yitzhak Einbender were sent east through the gate of Surez. A place that through it the partisans and refugees crossed the German lines to the Russian side. There they sent my friends to learn terrorists techniques and explosive management.
I told her of my dilemma, that my whole family was save and is now about 4 km from Kurenitz, what should I do?!. Berta said, "Wait, you are so lucky for your whole family to be saved, that is a present from God, don't leave them. Take them to the Pushtza and then join the Otriad." We agreed that on the 10 of Oct. I will come to Volkovishtzena and wait for her until the 20th. Meanwhile I will transfer my family to the woods. I returned to the Borodino forest and saw that Simah and her daughter Rivka Gvint joined us. A few days later Salim returned from the pushtza and together we transferred everyone to the big pushtza in the vicinity of Hog. The situation of the Jews in Pushtza was bad, very bad. About 300 Jews including old women and babies escaped from the Kurenitz slaughter and were now in the Pushtza. The men and the women walk to the neighboring villages and ask for bread, potatoes, flour or soup., A few of the men receive the food after they threatened to light the farms on fire. A few times when they refused they stole from the fields. They stole laundry that was hanging in the yard. What could they do? they had to survive.
Even harder was the situation of women who escaped without men. They were victims for every Christian, every man. The fight for survival was very cruel. So the lucky ones that were left from the slaughter from Kurenitz, nyake, Kribitzi and Mydell had their own hell on earthÉ.
The Departure to Vostok
In the forest I met Motik Alperovich, Eliyahu's brother. He was also a member of our troop. I told him about Berta's promise to meet up with me in Volkovishtzena. We went to Volkovishtzena and we were told that if any of our troop members want to join the partisans they must come to some meeting place in Harstintzitz. And from there they will be taken to the Otriad. We returned to the pushtza and there we found Yankale Alperovich. He joined the partisan Otriad Mastetal, (meaning the revenged). I rested for two days and then went to the headquarters of the Otriad. The guard went inside to ask if they will allow me an entrance. They let me in and immediately I saw a familiar person. It was Timsok, the now commissar, who I knew from Kurenitz and the day I left Kurenitz for Dolhinov I met him in the market and he told me to go east. He knew all of our deeds as a troop and asked us to join his troop particularly because I had a weapons.
I told him about my family that was saved and how I want to transfer them east. He told me not to worry, that they were planning on moving all the Jews east to the Soviet Union through the gates of the Surez. So he decided to make me one of the coordinators of the transfer unit and he said that when I reach Plashntzenitz I would join the Brova Otriad and my family will continue deep into Russia. I consulted with my father, Motik Alperovich and Shimon Zishka Alperovich, and they all were very happy with the news because some of their family members were saved and we could now take care of them. I didn't find the Shnitzer brothers and heard they were somewhere in the Pushtza. I returned to Timsok and told him that we all agreed. The Jews started preparing for the journey to the Vostok. They prepared lapstot, a kind of boots that are made from clothing material. Among the Jews in the woods there was a shoe maker from Kribitz and he repaired everyone's shoes. They also gathered some bread, salt, and crackers. This was the middle of November 1942. On one Saturday 300 people from all over the Pushtza gathered. 200 of them were Jews from Kurenitz, the rest were from Nyeke, Kribitz, Molodechno, Vileyka, Mydell and Kobilnik. The camp was divided to groups of tens. At the head of each ten they put a captain and every group had partisans as guides. The first group included fifty men with one partisan. When night came we started walking.
At the beginning everything was fine. But parents with little kids and old people suffered. Slowly the distance between the groups grew larger. The young people held the children and carried them on their shoulders. The partisans also tried to help and they were extremely nice to everyone. A few started slowing and the partisans told them they must hurry to cross the train tracks before light. 300 people spread around one km, many just could not keep up with the rest. The partisan decided to get some horse and buggies because they were so slow. 4 km from the train tracks the partisans went to the village Peskovitch Tzizana and they took three buggies with horses and they had the little children and old men sit in them. When they reached 200 meters from the train tracks they told everyone to rest and they returned the horse and buggies. When they returned they ordered everyone to cross the train tracks. Everyone got up and quickly crossed the tracks.
We still had to cross the Kurenitz Dolhinov road and not far from there were two German camps. This was the most dangerous part of the 40 kilometers that we had to go that day. We sent three people to check the road. We waited and waited and they did not return. Later we found out that a group of 50 people crossed the road safely and they wrongly assumed that the rest of us were following. Somehow there was miscommunication and we did not follow. When hours past and night time was almost over we decided to look for some forest to hide during the day and at night we would continue east. 250 people rested in the forest joined by 3 partisans. The danger was unimaginable but everyone was extremely well behaved. They hardly talked and even the babies were quite. All day long we saw German cars on the road and farmers walking here and there. We kept quite and in extreme worries we passed the day. When it got dark we continued east. We left the clearing and went into the forest. The next village was 5 km away. From there we had another 20 km to the next partisan stop. Very quickly we realized that in theory this was a good plan but in reality the people could not accomplish the mission. Everyone was very thirsty having not had anything to drink all day. The children could hardly walk, the line became linger and longer and the distance between the groups grew larger. The belongings and the metal food containers were making a lot of noise and along with the crying children and the parents trying to calm them down the noise could be heard all around.
All of a sudden we heard shots being fired and machine guns shooting from the direction of Dividki. Our being so laud saved us. As we later found out the police put a barricade and were waiting for us to arrive. They thought it was a small partisan group that was arriving. But when they heard such laud sounds they thought is was a big partisan army and that scared them and they opened fire sooner than originally planned. They started lighting the night with flares and kept shooting at us. Everyone panicked and ran to the direction of the forest. I knew that they were not going to touch us because they were too far. About forty people reached the forest with me. We lied on the ground. I had no idea what happened to the rest. From afar I could see people crawling to the forest. I could see 13 year old Yishayu Kramer that looked like a ten year old falling and getting up. Crawling and on his shoulders he is carrying his three year old sister Marishka. What a nightmare.
The shots stopped. I couldn't find the partisans and we were in a tiny forest. I didn't know the area but from my calculations we walked about 3 or 4 km east so we were still between Kastivonitz and Kanihinina. I knew that the Germans would look for us at the first day light so we looked for a bigger forest. We found one and exhausted we fell asleep. Early in the morning we woke up to the sound of shots. The Germans were going though the road looking for partisans. They didn't come near us. We lied down the whole day without movement. When evening came again we heard some more shots. We decided to go back to the Pushtza we originally came from.
I was happy Yitzchak Zimmerman was with us. He was a village man, smart and even tempered. I had someone to consult with. We both knew we must return to the woods we came from. But first we had to find out where we where. Yitzhak and I left the group and went to look for a farm. We found one and knocked on the window. An old woman answer but she gave us no help. We decided to find the road on our own. We manage to find a road and while walking we found a rich looking farm. The farmer told us the way to a town that was the opposite way from which we wanted to go. We didn't want him to know our real plans. We returned to the group. We didn't have anything to drink for 24 hours. We started walking and reached a village. We saw dirty water in the drainage system. We all drank from it using the palm of our hands. Yitzhak knew of this village and knew it was close to the train tracks.
Once again Yitzhak, Wexler and I left the group and went to check the train tracks. This time we were luckier it was not watched. We motioned to the rest of the group to follow us and we crossed the tracks. Everyone was very thankful but we had no time to rejoice. With Yitzka's help I hurried the group. We walked all night and in the morning we reached the village Margi at the edge of the Pushtza we left earlier.
Now I was all separated from my original troop. Motik Alperovich and Shimon Zishkas' Alperovich were with the first group of people to successfully reached the Vostok. I never saw them again. Both were killed in action during battles in the east Belarusian Forest in 1944 as heroes of U.S.S.R.
In the Deep of the Pushtza
So we were back at the Pushtza, winter was coming, and the Jews were spread in an area that was 20 km long and 15 km wide. All around there were huge trees. It was forever dark forests that no one ever walked through before. The farmers in the surrounding area would only go to the edges of that forest. On the other side there were wet lands, swamps you could not cross during summer. It was home to wild animals. And here the Jews walk around. everyday they must go to the villages begging , demanding and even threatening just to get a little bit of potatoes. At the beginning the Belorussians were helpful. They would give them food, some from pity and others fearing revenge. But when the "Jew sickness" continued, meaning they wanted food every day, they changed their attitude. From refusal to mocking, from put downs to physical fights. They would even hit women and old men. In a few cases they used knives. Only the fear of the partisans prevented them from killing the Jews. And where were the partisans now?!, they were all gone to other forests.
I helped my family to build Zimlanka, a hide out deep in the ground. We built a beautiful Zimlanka. Winter came and I was ready for revenge, I wanted to fight but I didn't know who I can join. I met with Yerachmiel and other Jews from Nyakee everyone said "what can we do?, how can we join the fighters ?."
On Jan 11 1943 I managed to get to Volkovishtzena. The village was all burned and I was told that the Germans hung Nikoli Shirutzin and his wife. Ivan managed to escape and very likely joined the partisans. I couldn't find any of the old contacts. I tried to connect to some other partisans. On Feb 17 I went to meet with partisan group called Kerkosovtzi. I walked the whole day through the snow. At first they were very receptive. I drank vodka with them but when they got drunk they started talking badly about the Jews. I started arguing with them, but I still asked to join their group. They made fun of me and at the end of the evening they said, "Go to Hell."
One evening in the middle of March 1943 I sat in our Zimlanka, all of a sudden the door opens and Yitzkale Einbender enters. He was dressed with a new fur coat, with a Cossacks hat. He looked very healthy, the boy became a man. He was armed with an automatic weapon and a gun. We were very happy to see each other. He already knew about the slaughter at Kurenitz, but had no idea what happened to his family. He knew that so many Jews had escaped and are alive spread all over the woods between Kurenitz and Lapell, and was hoping to find his family alive. He knew that when he left them, they had a hiding place. For a few minutes we talked around the subject, he was afraid to ask and I was afraid to tell. Finally my father took him outside and told him the bitter truth, "your family was shot and burned." He went into the Zimlanka and cried like a baby.
After a long time he told us what happened to him and Nachoom Alperovich and Nyomka Shulman, After they left Kurenitz with Xina, they met with Lonka Vorbiyov who was holding our printing material. They reached one of the brigades of Didia Vasia," Norody Mastetel", The National Revenge. After they stayed there for a short time it was decided that they would join a group that was going to cross the border. The group included a large amount of Jews, women and children and at the head was a wounded captain. They were taken from one partisan area to another, 100's of kms. Nyomka got sick, got exema all over his body and his feet were in terrible shape. As farther they went the camp became more and more populated. They were joined by wounded women ad children. When they successfully crossed the border at the town of Valish, they were separated to once who joined the red army, wounded and sick people who went to the hospital, people who went further inland and some were sent to a school to train to become terrorists.
Nyomka and Yitzhak were immediately sent to the school in the vicinity of Smolensk. There they learned the rules of terrorism in detail. A few days later Nachoom joined them in the school. Nyomka situation was worsening. The exema spread all over his body. When he put his belt with the weapons around his waist he was not able to buckle the belt. The army headquarter suggested that he should go to the hospital but he refused, he wanted to go back to Belarus and fight. Shortly before the end of the studies, Nachoom was taken to work in an army printing press and all his begging to go to the front lines didn't help. Nyomka and Yitzhak finished their studies and were sent to Spetzs grofa a special terrorist unit. On their way west, they met Nachoom.
At a later time during a battle after blowing up a German train, Nyomka Shulman son of Aaron and Rachel, was killed. He told me that in a short time Nyomka's name was well known as a fighter that would takes the most dangerous mission. As if Nyomka wanted to forget Kurenitz faith by revenging the enemy.
Yitzkale Einbender suggested that I join Spetz grofa who was headed by Orlov. I went with him. This was a small unit that most of their actions were terrorist actions, derailing trains. Yitzkale had radio technician named Lydka with him. she was his lover. Our first mission was to help the Jew who were in very bad shape. We enter the villages in the vicinity of Kurenitz and Kribitz and took the cows from German collaborators and then would take them to the woods to give the Jews.
From Yitzkale and his friends I learned how to use explosives on the train tracks to derail the trains. We never lacked explosives, they would bring them from Palik, eastern Belarus. They had a small airport in the middle of the woods and there they had regular schedule landing of aircraft's filled with ammunition from USSR.
Yitzkale started drinking and this made his situation very dangerous. He would volunteer to every mission even if it had no hope of success. He didn't have anyone above him and his wish for revenge made him crazy. One day he decided to visit a girl he used to like, Victoria who lived right next to Kurenitz, 150 meters from the train tracks that were patrolled extremely well at that period.
Yitzkale , his girlfriend lydka and I took a sled to a farm not far form Kurenitz. He continued alone to Kurenitz. At the edge of town he left his horse and walked through town. He wanted to see his parent's house. From one of the houses he heard voices of Germans, but he was bitter and couldn't care less about being seen . He continued walking and reached the house of our Christian friend Kula Greenspitz. He couldn't find Victoria. She was now a girlfriend of a German policeman so he stayed with Greenspitz and got drunk. Greenspitz brought him back to our hide out, he was lucky this time, but for how long?. That evening we had a huge fight. I talked to him about his drinking problem and I said that revenge is right but you must know who and at what time to avenge and you must plan ahead. He told me "it is easy for you to talk quietly about revenge, you saved your family. How about me, I left them to fight for themselves."
Later he sobered up and we continued to be friends as before. Two months we were together, twice we went together to blow up train tracks. His problem was that he would never allow anyone else to place the explosives. He went on the tracks alone and set up the explosives alone. This was the way my friend Yitzhak Einbender was.
In a short time I became one of the guys and with Yitzhak's help I got some respect. Two days before he left the group we decided to avenge one of the two gentiles that brought the Germans to the Tzintzivi forest and caused the battle where our friend Eliyahu Alperovich was killed. We knew their names. One was the forester Silak and the other was a polish man by the name Bovsovski that served the Germans as an informant. He lived in the village Torovishnitza. Yitzhak, some Christian partisans and I went to the Vishna village and asked where Boshovistki lived. Everyone was scared to let us know. We went to the soltis, the head of the village and we asked where Boshovotski lives. He answered that he left the village. Yitzkale took the Soltis to the barn and told him to tell him where he was or he would shoot him, He took a gun to his head. The daughter of the Saltis came out of the house and began begging for her father's life she kissed Yitzkale's hand begging. Yitzkale started hitting the Soltis with the rifle but he refused to talk. Finally the daughter could not take it any more and told us where Boshivski lived. We threatened them that if they would make a sound we would burn the whole village.
We approached Bovoshiski's house that was located in the center of the village. He lived in a beautiful house, he was well off. Mainly from the belongings of the Kurenitz Jews. Yitzhak went to the window and knocked. "Open immediately" he yelled. A man approached the window and asked, "Who is calling so late?" Yitzhak told him that we were the police. One of the partisans was wearing a police uniform, he entered the door and Boshuvoski walked to the entrance with a gun in his hand. The partisan said, "Don't you see I am a cop, what is wrong of you, since when are you afraid of the police and greet them with a gun?" Boshoviski said, "Who knows, there are a lot of suspicious people around, you can never be sure." The house inside was dark, we all came in and demanded to put on the lights. When he did it we all pointed our weapons and took the gun from his hand. Yitzkale approached him and slapped him twice and said, "You bastard, you know who is Ruven Zishka from Kurenitz? And you know his son Elik, the Jew who was killed in the tzintzivi forest?" Boshovoski became pale and begged for his life. He claimed he was not the one to take the Germans to the woods and how he helped the Kurenitz Jews after the slaughter. Yitzhak said "bring out all the possessions you have that belong to the Jews, if you do that we will not kill you." Boshovoski started bringing out all kind of leather goods like boots and clothes. We knew it was not all. We collected everything into a bag. We told him to bring out all the weapons he had. He swore he only had one gun. We hit him with the gun. he screamed and we told him to stop screaming. We told his family to stand near the wall with their hands up. When he saw their death was coming he reached for the table, moved it, and from under the floor he took out one rifle, two guns and ammunition. One of the partisans kept the family members inside the house, we took the weapons and bag and put it on a sled. Yitzkale took his gun and shot Boshoviski. We took their kerosene lamps and lit the house on fire but we left the rest of the family untouched.
Next we took the Soltis and his daughter to Luban where the main German headquarters was located. We beat up the Soltis and then released him saying, " Go and tell the Germans in Luban that the Partisans were here and they are Jews from Kurenitz." Two days later Yitzhak and two other partisans left for Palik. I never saw him again. Sometime later he was killed in action.
Yitzkale was an amazing fighter especially with explosives. He was known all around by the names Viktor and Vitka or the "fearless". His name stirred huge fear amongst the collaborators with the Germans and the Soltis. He was famous throughout the whole region. His name was admired by partisans and hated by farm people. To me he was a wonderful guy. He exemplified the essence of the partisan in his behavior and in his appearance. He revenged as many collaborators as he could but always with a sense of justice and only when he was sure they were guilty.
After Yitzhak left our troop went to Nyeber. From there I was able to see my family and my new girlfriend Freda. From the base in the wet lands of Nyeber we would go for missions on the train tracks of Molodechno- Polocheck. The train movements on that line were constant. The Germans would transfer soldiers, weapons, ammunition and gasoline to the front lines. We tried to disturb the movement as much as we could. The head of the our troop was the Russian Orlov who came to commend us after he fought in the front. Our economical situation was good. We got supplies from the nearby farmers and since we were in an area that was more secluded and away from other partisans it was easy to get supply.
My girlfriend Freda came from Brisk. She looked like a shiksa. In 1940 at the time of the Soviets she arrived in Kribitz where she worked in accounting. When the Germans came to Kribitz she made an arrangement with a gentile that she would stay with him in exchange for some of her belongings. She transferred all of her belongings to him but she stayed a little longer in the Ghetto. After she escaped she went to the gentile, he let her stayed there for two days and then he kicked her out, refusing to give back her belongings. When I found out about it I arranged to go with four other partisans to that gentile. At first he denied knowing anything about any Jew. After we hit him he returned her belongings and that helped Freda a lot in her hiding place in the woods that was right next to my family.
Between the month of May and Sep. 1943 I took part in 11 missions of blowing up bridges and trains. One of the missions took place near the station in Parpinova next to Dackshitzi. This happened at the end of June. We were six people. We walked 50 meters in front of the tracks. At that point all the trees and bushes from the side of the tracks were cut so that the special guards who were called TODT, whose job was to watch the tracks, could see both sides of the tracks. At that time the trains would hardly go at night to prevent terrorism. So just before dawn we crawled on the tracks while it was still dark. From time to time the Germans would throw flares. Partisan Tzika, crawled up on the tracks and were joined by Sepliv who crawled 75 meters from Tzika. Another partisan went from the other side. We would put the explosives in two places for two reasons; one was because if something would go wrong and the first explosives didn't work, hopefully the second would go off. Secondly if the first explosive went off then the second explosive would take out anyone running to the train. While the three partisans were on the tracks we were below ready to shoot if they were noticed. We waited for the train for many hours only at nine forty in the morning the cargo train came and the explosion was huge. The Germans started shooting and we retreated into the woods after we were ten km away we rested. We returned to our base very happy.
At one point we decided to move our base closer to the train tracks. Now it was only a one day walk to get there. The third of Aug. 1943 was a historically famous day in the partisans fight in the region. On that day all the Otriads, Spetz gropa and the brigades had missions all over the train tracks of Belarus. At this time the partisan airports were fully working so we got a lot of ammunition and explosives and also more of us were trained by the Red army how to use the explosives. The part we were responsible was between Botzlov and Parpinova. So from the 3 of Aug until the 16 there was a fierce battle of explosives on the train tracks. The sounds of our explosives were constant and the Germans didn't know what to do. Those were some of the best days in my stay in the woods.
On the 2 of Aug. we returned to Nyaber for two weeks of rest. I sent a message through another partisan to my girlfriend that I was in Nyeber, "Could she come visit." After a week she arrived all by herself. She walked in the woods for 40 km just to see me for one day. She had wonderful news to tell me. They are going to have an only Jewish Otriad with a Jewish commander. I immediately wanted to join them. But to my sorrow I got sick with Typhus. I lost consciousness so they sent me to a hospital 60 km from Nyeber.
When I woke up the first thing I saw was the beautiful face of a girl named Chaya Parus from Svangson. Chaya told me that I was in the Zimlanka of the health clinic of the Jewish Otriad, Mayest. And that she was the nurse there. This was some time in Sep. 1943. When I was able to leave the Zimlanka I saw an amazing sight. All around me there were armed Jews, men and women. Even their headquarters was Jewish. This was what I dreamed of and was not in a hurry to return to my troop. Here I heard stories about the resistance in the Vilna Ghetto and the departure of a group of Jews from the Ghetto to the woods. I met the leaders of the Otriad. Botnias, a Jew from Lithuania who use to be a paratrooper in the army, Yosef Glassman from Vilna, Boris Grodman and the unit officers Chayim Lazar, Shura Bogin and Bomka Boyraski. In the Otriad I met Jews from Svensal, Sviere, Midol, Quebelanic, Kostov and others and I also saw again some of my friends from Kurenitz. Most of the unit was from the PPO in Vilna. This was the social headquarters for all the Jewish partisans and all other Jews in the forest. Here they spoke Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian. You would meet every one and hear news from all around. The members of the Jewish Otriad would participate in terrorist actions and they destroyed the German headquarters in Midol, they fought the white Polish and also they damaged the German headquarters in Kobolinic.
The Otriad encountered many difficulties. They had many members that were not armed and a large amount of women. The other partisans didn't respect them. At on time they had 260 people and in spite of the fact that they disarmed many of the Polish and got a large amount of rifles from them, they were not given any of those rifles. On Sep 23 Markov and Kalimov the leaders of the partisans in the area came to the troop and announced that the Jews are not a nation, according to the definition set by Stalin. They do not have their own republic so they are disallowed to participate in the partisan movement as a separate national entity. They must join the other brigades that belong to the specific republics that they came from. The other reason for taking that unit apart they said, was that having independent Jewish troop creates anti-Semitism and weakens the effort to have a united Belarussian fight and thereby weakens the Russian fight against the Germans. The next day Solovitz the new commander of the troop Komsomolski, took all the Jewish fighters watches, boots, and personal weapons and that was the end of the Jewish Otriad, Mystetal.
This was a terrible shock to all the Jews in the forest. The next day was the beginning of the big blockade. 40,000 German soldiers surrounded Narootz forest aiming to kill the partisans. The blockade lasted one week. Very few of the partisans were killed but from the Jews there were many victims especially of the Jews who had just come from Ghetto Vilna and were not yet acclimated to living in the forest.
I returned to my troop, the Plotnikov group. When I told commander Orlov of the Jewish Otriad dismiss he was very upset for us, Jews. So two days later when I told him there is a new, small Jewish group that was going to be lead by Shura Katzenbogin he immediately let me leave and take my personal weapon. So I joined the troop.
The Troop of Shura Bogin and the Second Brigade named for Soborov.
Shura's troop had a little over 20 people. Amongst them Lazar Shipiro, Hershka Hermitz, Morbechick, Shika Grietman, Shimon Zimmerman, The brothers Salim and Moshyo Shnitzer, Leib Gurevitch, two people with the last name Levine, Claw, and someone from Svier and others I can not recall their names. Shura Bogin was a blond man who looked like a goy with a rolling R in his speech. He was modest, honest, brave and a good Jew. Although he was not religious or even traditional he had a Jewish soul and he was determined that the Jews can fight just like anyone else. He had to prove this in an environment that was full of anti-Semitism. I was there only for a short time. Mostly we were guarding the partisan airports and gathering weapons from the farming community. After one of the missions where I was able to see how brave Shura was, I got a message to go to the Politnikov troop. On my return I visited my family and I also took Shura's mother-in-law to live with my family.
At that time the Spats gropa was part of the second brigade of Soborov. They were dislocated. They moved us to the area of Smorgon. Most of the new fighters who joined us came to us after surviving the bloody blockade in the Vostok. We fought two fronts, one the Germans and the second was the White Polish since in that area most of the population was Polish. At the beginning we did the routine partisan work guarding, destroying telephone and telegraph lines, killing collaborators, getting supplies and political propaganda against the local German authorities. Our specific group was involved in derailing trains and destroying bridges and roads. Our direct areas was from Molodechno to Vilna and between Somdmov to Godimay. We suffered a lot from the Polish partisans of the area so a decision was made to clear Smorgon and Vistoma from both Germans and the Polish Ak. Everyone was participating, even the cooks. We were joined by the brigade Sovietico Belarus that was headed by Volinitz. The brigade Brinoza that was headed by Smolanski and three Otriads from Markovs brigade. Our brigade attacked from the West, Prozna from the North, The Sovietico Belarus from the South East, and the three Otriad of Markovs directly from the main road Molodechno- Smorgon. It took place in the middle of March 1944. This was one of the largest battles of the partisans in West Belarus. It was like a true army battle. After a strong barrage of fire we attacked from the three sides of Smorgon. The Germans were in their bunkers and they knew of the coming attack so they replied with very strong fire. Already in the first German reply some partisans were killed. We all immediately shadowed the ground. There was a command to get up and press on. The German machine guns constantly shot. We got up and ran 50 meters and again laid down on the melting snow. I could hear wounded begging for help but no one could help. The situation was grieve and it was getting dark. We were almost frozen. Again we heard the command, " Forward." We ran with all our might. Grenades were thrown by us through the opening of Germans bunkers. Still there were some shots but much less. We ran ahead now the battle continued in the center of town from house to house. At that point, where we got to the center of town our specific brigade was transferred in sleds to the direction Vistoma, to fight the Polish Whites. We were still very tired from the first battle, but we had to continue.
The Poles were waiting for us. Right at dawn the battle began, but it was a children's play in comparison to the Smorgon battle. We had the upper hand both from the point of weapons and numbers. So all we wanted was to have the fewest number of victims from our side. We let the Pole shoot until their ammunition was dwindling. At nine in the morning they started retreating to the North West. We were too tired to follow them closely. We entered Vistoma. The town was burning. There were many bodies of Polish fighters and residents of the city. We called the residents to stop the fire. It was a big day of victory. Vodka was spilled like water everywhere. The town mayor, the police and the collaborators that didn't escape were executed. I think that this was a happy day for some of the women in the town.
At that night we left the area with our wounded and dead. We buried the dead near the Villia river in a very sentimental ceremony. I even heard a commissar eulogizing one of the Jewish victims from Krasna, he said that he was a Jewish hero. Just prior to the bottle a lot of the young Christians from the villages got notices to come to Smorgon so they can take them to work in Germany . many of the young people came to our headquarters and asked if we could save them from that fate. We distributed a lot of propaganda that they must not join the hard labor force in Germany. Some of the youth joined the partisans and others hid in the forest. I myself gave a speech on that subject in one village, Kobli. I was happy to hear that many of the villagers did not succumb to the German propaganda and did not join. On March 6th there was an announcement that all the men that were born between 1908 and 1924 must join the national defense of Belarus. This troop was suppose to help the Germans with the war against the Soviet Union. The German situation in the front was very bad at that point so they needed any help they could get of the locals. We were doing counter propaganda in 38 villages to pursued the locals not to join that army. In one of the villages, Kotzitzi, we knew ahead that the Germans would come on March 8 to get the youth to join the Belarussian army. We put a blockade on the village and killed many Germans and policemen and we got 32 automatic rifle and 3 machine guns. Not one youth joined their army. At the end of March 200 Germans entered the village Kosmitzi. We decided to attack. We opened a surprise fire. At the beginning the Germans retreated after a short time they realized from the strength of the fire that there were just few of us. they started with counter attack. We retreated but continued firing. During the battle one of our guys was wounded. At the beginning we did not realize it. When we regrouped we realized that he was missing, We decided to return to the area and get him alive or dead. We returned and what we realized was that he was wounded and could not move and that he was constantly shooting at the Germans until he had one bullet and used it to kill himself. At the moment we came the Germans were going to put benzene on his body and burn him. We attacked them and took his body to burial. April May and the beginning of June we were only busy with derailing and destroying trains. We didn't work hard because the Germans were hardly using the trains and the night rides totally stopped. It was dangerous to attack during the day but the Germans did not actively look for us any more. They just defended the tracks. They were very weak so a few times we were successful in derailing their trains and taking the ammunition. At the end of May, Botziko the head of the special unit gave and order to kill the forester Silac who caused the death of Elik Alperovich in the forest of tzintzivi in June 1942.
We met at his house. He was sure that no one was left from the Kurenitz Jews who knew what he had done. I won't give you the gory details but we did what we had to do and this "lowest of low" got his punishment. Between the 19th and 20th of 1945 there was another war of the tracks. All together there were 3 wars of the tacks and this was the last one. In one night the partisans destroyed 40,000 segments of train tracks. Whatever the Germans would repair during the day we destroyed at night.
The Red Army was forging ahead with huge steps. The Nazis were retreating. They tried to use the roads and the trains. We were waiting to ambush them. All we could do was to help the approaching red army with whatever we could do.
Many volunteers joined the brigade and at the time of the liberation it included 500 fighters and among them 17 Jews. On July 4th our brigade met with the red army in Vistoma and we continued in there ranks until we reached Smorgon.
Immediately as I was released I got a job as a teacher and head master in a junior high school in Vistoma and shortly after I started at the University of Minsk and married my girl friend Freda.
Translated by seventeen year old Ron Levitan in honor of Benjamin Nyomka Shulman, my great-grand-uncle who believed that a young boy from Kurenitz could fight the Nazis