Thus it Began
Chapters from the Underground
Edited (in Hebrew) by Aharon Meirovitz
Translated by Eilat Gordin
Levitan (granddaughter of Nachum Alperovichs first cousin; Meir
There is strong evidence
that during World War II many Jews fought the Nazi annihilator and did
not go to their deaths like sheep as was commonly thought. Considering
the hardships the Jews encountered; the hostile environment and the
methods the Germans used to tricked and controlled the Jews by consistently
promising to let them live if they were "useful and
obedient", the evidence of courageous resistance becomes obvious.
As someone who experienced the evils of those days as a teenager in
my hometown of Kurenets, Likewise, afterward in the forests with the
resistance, I can bring many examples of the heroic stands by Jews.
Even if the resistance was not always shown in a physical form, they
treated the enemy with open hatred and contempt.
I was told about our town's residents Zusia Benes and Leah (daughter
of Chaim Yisrael Gurevitz) Benes, an old couple. The day the Germans
came to seize them to be slaughtered, they burned their wooden home
and jumped in the fire, consequently, the Germans did not get to touch
Leib Motosov and Leib Dinerstien encountered similar fates. They jumped
in the fire wearing their talits saying, "Here oh Israel!"
before the Nazis had a chance to shoot them. All the examples I have
used so far are of people who were old and could not physically fight
the Nazis, I have no doubt that if they would have had the chance, they
would have fought them fiercely.
Moreover, if I mention the older townspeople, I must mention Chaiale
Sosensky, a teenager of about 14 or 15. When the Germans came to obtain
her, she scratched the faces of the policemen with her nails and prophesied
the day of revenge. I was told that she was severely tortured but continuously
cursed the killers.
2. Picture of Chaiale Sosensky
On those days of horrors, the Jews of the town were not allowed to have
contact with each other, so we don't even know the extent of revolting,
particularly in the cases of families who did not survived. However,
even the little that we know makes me feel deep respect for my townspeople.
Another tale I must tell is that of Israel Alperovich.
Israel was a deeply religious Jew. When he escaped with his family to
the woods, he continued keeping Kosher. He starved for many days but
did not allow himself to eat the bread and other food brought from the
villagers, fearing that the food was not kosher. Israel only ate potatoes
that he baked in the fire and, eventually, he died of starvation. I
see much heroism in his deed: he never lost his spiritual essence and
his deep beliefs. When I compare his final journey to the journey of
the many thousands of Russian POW's who while passing trough our town
fought each other to get to food that was thrown to them by the Nazis,
I can particularly respect him.
Another resistance was from Arka Alperovitch, who attacked a policeman
who was taking him to be killed. Arka managed to strike the policeman
in the head and take his rifle away; he escaped to the fields, but other
policemen killed him.
Yankaleh Alperovich, the son of Orchik and Maryl showed another example
of bravery. I will tell about his act of bravery later.
3.. picture of the mother of the author; Pesia Alperovich (daughter
of Nachum Kastrell)
First, I must tell you about my mother in a few sentences. Her resistance
to the enemy was heroic and lasted throughout all of the days of the
Nazi occupation until the German killers took her from her hiding place
to her death. Even there, she never stopped cursing them and despising
them. She spit in the face of one of them and hit him with her skinny,
tired hand. For that, they killed her right on the spot. Days later,
the villagers that saw the incident were still talking about it. They
were amazed at how brave my mother was.
Most of these heroic occurrences were spontaneous, but the story I am
going to tell you about is that of organized, thoroughly thought resistance
that was done by a small number of teenagers.
We were members of the youth movement "Hashomer Hatzair" in
Kurenitz, even in the days of the Soviets; we worked in secret on our
commitment to the youth movement. The group numbered only about 10 to
12 people; it was small only because it had to be underground. During
the Nazi occupation, when people realized the existence of our resistant
band, many, years older then we were, implore us to let them join our
The active members of the troop in 1941, when the German invaded our
area were; Yitzhak (Yetzkaleh) Einbinder age 16, Benjamin (Nyomka) Shulman
age 15, Shimon Zirolnik, Zalman Gurevitch, the brothers Elik and Motik
Alperovich, Chaim Yitzhak Zimmerman, and I. Later we were joined by;
Berta Dimenstien, Noach Dinnerstien, Josef Norman and others. I was
17 at that time. The only survivors of this group were Zalman Gurevitch,
Yosef Norman, and I. Yetzkaleh Einbender and Nyomka Shulman were renowned
in their heroic deeds and their complete commitment to fight the enemy.
Yetzkaleh received many high medals after his death.
Our strong commitment to fight the enemy came from our involvement with
"HaShomer Hatzair", the Movement slogan was "Brave and
Strong". For us it was much more then a slogan. It was our way
of life and our motto. Additional important rule of the Movement was
absolute commitment to lookout for each other.
4. Picture of Hashomer Hatzair in Kurenets, Nachum Alperovich Picture
HaShomer Hatzair commandments were; to help each other, to live a life
of purity both in the physical and spiritual sense, to cherish nature,
to love Eretz Israel, and to train to be farmers in our homeland. This
way of life was encouraged and attained by journeys throughout the forest
and participation in summer and winter camps alongside youth from other
Those youthful experiences helped us, especially during the hard times
of the German occupation. 5. Pictures of the Alperovich Family
I was drawn to " HaShomer Hatzair" since a very early age,
following my older sisters example. My oldest sister, Hannah,
was one of the first youths in our town to join the movement. Later,
my sisters Henia and Rachel joined the Movement too. Hannah spent many
seasons in training camps. She yearned to become a "Chalutza"
and was waiting for years for a permit to leave for Eretz Israel. Her
dream was finally realized in 1938, still without a permit. Using fake
papers, she reached Israel on a boat of illegal immigrants.
I was the only son--we were one boy and five girls. Our mother was very
brave and clever. In 1917, she was very committed to the Russian revolution.
Although she was married at the time and with two young daughters, she
deeply believed and fought for communism. Eventually, she lost some
of her zeal for communism.
At our house, my mother's brothers (Castroll) were often mentioned.
Two of her brothers left for America before I was born, one of them
had a candy store. His financial situation was not great and I remember
that in one of his letters he wrote, "I have a sweet business with
a sour income." My mother's other brother in America was Chanan
Castroll. He was the secretary of the Communist party in New York. In
1938, he was a member of a committee that went to Moscow, and people
said that he even met Stalin! Hence it must have been a familial trait
the interest in political action.
Father, on the other hand, was very different--quiet and much more cautious.
Maybe his somber encounters in youth made him cautious. When he was
very young, he immigrated to the US, but was not satisfied with the
way of life in the U.S, after a short time, he returned to the town.
Mother was very involved with the youth movement, and sometimes I felt
that if she were younger, she would have chosen the path of the youth
movement. From this, you can probably gather that I never needed to
rebel against my parents even though outwardly it seemed that their
lifestyle was similar to the rest of the town's Jews. Half of our house
that stood in the market center was for our personal use, and the second
half was a store for fabric. 6. The Tarbut school, Nachum Alperovich
My education was the common education in the shtetl. First, I went to
a Cheder, and later to Tarbut school were we spoke only Hebrew, there
I finished four grades. There was no fifth grade, so the next year we
had to continue our studies in a Polish public school. When the school
year started, I was tested, but failed the test considering I barely
knew Polish it was not a surprise. Instead of putting me in fifth grade,
they wanted to put me in third grade. The teacher and headmaster in
the school was a Polish man named Mataras. Mother, who was fluent in
Polish came to Mataras and told him that I knew the material, it was
only the language that I was weak in. Then she started talking Yiddish
to the principal and repeated everything she said earlier, but in Yiddish.
Mataras said, "How are you talking to me, Madam? What happened
to you?" "Nothing happened," my mother said in Polish,
"I was telling you the same things in Polish, a language you know
well, in contrast now I said it in a language you have no knowledge
of. This is my son's state. He knows the material; he just doesn't know
the language. If you allow him, you will immediately realize that he
will be a good student, and in time will overcome the language barrier."
Mataras was very impressed with my mother's cleverness and accepted
me to fifth grade on the condition that I would work very hard the first
half of the year, and then he would reevaluate the situation. When the
first half-year came, I was still unable to overcome the language barrier
so my mother went again and asked to prolong the period; he gave me
another half year. By the time the end of the year arrived, I was one
of the best students in the class.
It was well known in town that Polish people love gefilte fish--especially
the way the Jews make it. Therefore, at the end of the school year mother
made some delicacies from gefilte fish. She brought the "Jewish
gift" to our Polish headmaster, who was so kind to me. Our families
became friendly from that day. We also had friendly relations with the
Polish teacher for math, Mr. Scrantani. He was very happy with my progress
now that I could speak the language and would always test me with math
riddles--a subject that I was very able to perform. In 1936, I graduated
from seventh grade in the Polish school.
I was very capable with technical skills. These were financially hard
times in town. Father was hardly able to support the family, now he
suggested that I should get a profession so I would be more independent
and be able to help the family. Father started working as an accountant
in the lending establishment, Gmilut Chesed. However, that still was
not enough so we decided that I would go to work as blacksmith in the
neighboring town, Vileyka.
I worked at an establishment that belonged to a Christian man. In that
place, there was another young Christian man who was constantly drunk.
One day, he came to work and started torturing me. He took a container
full of gas, started pouring it on the ground around me, and threatened
that he would light it on fire. I ran out of the establishment and returned
to Kurenitz. My parents decided that I should never go back there and
that I should look for another profession.
We had a relative in Vileyka named Mandel's who was a merchant of bicycles,
radio equipment, and even had one motorcycle that was a new commodity
in our area at the time.
7. Picture of motorcycle
Vileyka was a more modern town than Kurenets and it had a printing house
that was owned by a Jewish man named Flexer. Flexer was very successful
and decided to open a second store to sell bicycles. Mandelis was very
upset, and decided to open a printing shop in retaliation. He bought
printing material, and stole the best worker from Flexer, a man by the
name Abraham Merkovitz.
I had an aunt in Kurenitz, my father's sister, Reshka Alperovitch. She
was a very capable woman and well known in town and even outside of
town. She was a widow, and beside of taking care of her home, she ran
a store that was renowned all over the region. Aunt Reshka said that
in her opinion it is much more respectable to work in a printing house
than to be a blacksmith. Since my aunt's opinion was much respected
by the rest of the family, I joined the workers of the printing place
as an assistant along with another young man named Yosef Norman. After
Yosef was trained and learned the profession well. Flexer offered him
a large sum of money. He started working for him, so now I was the only
worker in the Mondavi printing house that was under the management of
We had a contract for three years. The first three years I was supposed
to get five "units of currency" per month. In the third year,
I was supposed to get ten. Therefore, I started working six days a week,
and on Saturday, I would return home to my family and to the youth movement
that was very important to me.
Amongst my friends in the youth movement, I was much respected since
a person that was able to support himself as a laborer was looked up
to. I, on the other hand truly wanted to continue my studies but there
was just no opportunity to do that since my parents needed the little
help I could give them.
During those days, my good friend from the youth movement, Motik, son
of Reuven Zishka Alperovitch, was studying in the Vileyka high school.
Motik would visit at my job place many times and would always say how
jealous he was that I was able to accomplish the proletariat commandment
of being productive, and he, on the other hand, must study. He said,
"For you, everything is good. If I could only exchange situations
with you?" I wished to exchange situations with him. Our printing
press was electric, but you could also manually move it either by hand
or by feet. Motik would come many times to help me and was very excited
when I let him use the arm or foot piece which made him feel like he
was part of the labor force. Eventually, I was so experienced that Abraham
Berkovitch would let me run the place all by myself.
Even a few years before World War II, we could feel that the spirit
of anti-Semitism was growing in Poland. Next to the meeting place of
HaShomer Hatzair lived a Christian male nurse named Solkevis. Encompassing
his home, there was a fruit grove. Many times while we were playing
at the yard, a ball dropped in the garden. Any time we tried to retrieve
our ball, his son would start fighting with us. He hated Jews. There
was a funny story about Solkevis. People said that once he came to visit
a terminally ill person that he could not find a cure for and decided
that he has contagious disease. Solkevis started screaming for the house
inhabitant not to wait, immediately they should take the sick man out
of the house and bury him.
Kopel Specter was the leader of our troop, so whenever we got in trouble
with Solkevis's son, he would stand halfway between the son and he and
us would somehow manage to stop the fights. One day, I went to get some
water from the well near Smorgon Street. The Christian, Pietka Gintoff,
saw me, he took my pail that was full of water and dumped it on the
ground. I was furious, I took the pail and whacked Pietka on his head.
He immediately fell on the ground. A gentile that saw the fight started
screaming, "A Jew killed a Christian boy!" After a few minutes,
Pietka got up and the Christians who gathered around saw that he was
okay. All the Jews that came to see what was happening had to calm down
the gentiles. So there wouldn't be a bigger fight.
Kopel would plan our activities and teach us about socialism and Eretz
Israel. He would teach us to sing Hebrew songs and Chasidic songs, and
we danced many folk dances, the most popular of which was the Horah.
Our meetings were not only held in the school, but also in the fields
and in the forests. Particularly, we liked to walk to the big boulder,
which were two huge rocks in the middle of a field that we always wondered
how they got there.
Sometimes, Elik and Motik Einbinder would invite us to the barn that
belonged to Reuven Zishka, their father, and there we would hold the
meetings. During our vacation, we would walk to the village, Mikolina,
near Dolhinov, a distance of about 20km. There we would spend many days
in what we called either our summer camp or our winter camp. We would
meet members of the HaShomer Hatzair from the Dolhinov Ken (unit), from
the Dockshitz ken, and the Krivich ken .
7.. Picture of Motik and Elik with Shimon Zimerman
During the winter, we would go to Ratzke to sled. Ratzke was a tiny
town, it was probably named after the river that was on her border and
she was most famous for her hills, to us, they looked like mountains
and we called them the Ratzkelberg. In the evening, we walked in groups
throw town, many times the young Christian kids liked to trick us by
putting barbed wire on the road and some times we would get hurt. One
time, Pesach, the son of Pinke Alperovich the town's butcher, caught
one of those Christian boys who was getting ready to put the barbed
wire down. He punched him very hard. Pesach was a very good-looking
boy, very strong and brave, and we were all very proud of him. This
scared the Christian kids, and after that, they stopped bothering us.
We were especially proud of Pesach, since his brother Tevel was a member
of our troop.
In our meetings, we would discuss events that happened very far away
from Kurenets. In 1936, we had big arguments among the members regarding
the situation in Eretz Israel. This was during the bloody fights with
the Arabs. We argued whether the Jews should take a compromising situation
with the Arabs to keep the peace or they should fight.
We were all about 13 or 14 at the time and for some of us, it was difficult
to obey the rules of HaShomer Hatzair. One of the most dedicated members
was Shimon Zirolnik. He was a very serious and kind person, and would
always follow the rules and keep a pure lifestyle.
When I was 13, for my bar mitzvah my mother gave me her father's tefillin.
I was named after my mother's father, Nachum Castroll. Nachum was a
Shochet in Kurenitz for many years. He turned blind when he was old.
Just before he died, he said to mother that if he would be lucky enough
to have a grandson in Kurenitz (he had other grandsons in the U.S and
the Soviet Union), she should name him Nachum and he will inherit his
I was very disappointed when my mother gave me the tefillin. When my
friends their bar mitzvahs they got new tefillin that looked beautiful,
and mine was old and shabby looking. Mother kept explaining how important
it was to keep the tefillin. That it was a tradition that passed for
many generations in our family. Finally, I was convinced, and by the
time I read the Torah and Haftorah, I could already appreciate the importance
of the old tefillin. I argued with my friends and won the arguments
that mine was superior. Just about those days, the youth movement, Beitar,
was getting very popular in town and we fought with them for the recruiting
of new members. A new spirit in town. World War II started
and the Soviets came to our area (of now Belarus) after the partition
of Poland. Many members of our youth movement believed that the Soviets
would understand our nationalistic desires, particularly our youth movement's
desires, since it was based on Marxist ideology.
Particularly excited amongst us were Shimon Zirolnik and Nyomka Shulman.
Nyomka was 14 at the time, already a deep thinker, brimming with energy
and a leader type. Both of them had hoped that the Soviets would help
us accomplish our nationalistic desires as Jews. Nyomka and Shimon started
studying Marxism very tenaciously. Nyomka even read Marx in German to
be sure that he did not miss any of the intent. When the Soviets had
just arrived, there was a feeling of comfort for some of us. The Christian
boys who used to bother us were very quiet now. No one was allowed to
say the word, "Jeed." The judge that came to our area from
Russia was a Jew and I must say that the political committee was working
hard trying to educate the public. We, the members of HaShomer Hatzair,
would gather in Nyomka's' house no more in secret. We would talk and
argue. Some of us even had girlfriends who were Russian (not Jewish).
In general, there was much more communication amongst the Jews and Russians.
I had new opportunities for education particularly since prior to the
Russia arrival I was a proletariat, a laborer in a printing place consequently
my situation was very favorable now. As I told you earlier, I finished
seven grades in the Polish school. I could be accepted to the public
high school to fifth grade.
The elementary school in town now became a high school. Many of my friends
were accepted to fifth grade, but some of us who stopped our studies
prior and were about 16 and 17 were much older than the rest of the
students who were about 14. Some of the teachers were Polish but few
came from Russia. Now, many students came from Russia from territories
that, prior to the war, belonged to Russia. Some people among us thought
that there was no sense to study since we soon would be 18 and would
have to serve in the army. There was a huge difference in capabilities
between the Jews and the non-Jews. The Jews were all very good students
and, in no time, there was a big gap. Other than studies, the school
also had many social activities now. There was singing and dancing and
we had many lessons on Communism. My biggest desire those days was to
continue to study medicine, but that was a long-term dream.
During the summer vacation of 1940, I went to work for the train station.
My job was to check the tracks; the train tracks were made of wood and
there was iron on top of them. I had to check that the wood was not
rotten. The tracks would get affected by heat and cold so I had to be
very diligent in my job and report the situation to a Christian, named
Bogdonyuk, who was the head of the train station. At that time, they
started widening the train tracks that had previously belonged to the
Polish territories since they were slightly narrower than the ones that
the Russians used. Therefore, I was traveling on a little bicycle from
Kurenets to Molodetszno, and I would check things and report to Bogdonyuk.
I did my job so well that they suggested that I should go to Leningrad
to study in the Techniyon. I came home and I told my mother that I got
an offer. My mother asked me, "Why the Techniyon? You always talked
about being a doctor." At that time, we had a renter who was responsible
for the communist propaganda in the region. He was Jew named Israel
Guzman, and he suggested that if I could finish the ninth grade in high
school until my time in the army, he would arrange for me to go to medical
school. At that time, people from the Polish area were allowed to finish
high school only graduating from ninth grade, unlike 10th grade, which
was more common in Russia. I listened to Guzman, but I thought it would
be impossible in the time that I had left before I have to serve in
the army to finish four grades. Mother did not agree with me. She said
that I could study very hard during the summer and learn everything
needed for sixth grade, so the next year I could go to seventh grade,
and then we would get postponement to finish ninth grade. Guzman agreed
with mother, so I immediately discontinued to work on the tracks and
started preparing for seventh grade. Most of my friends also did the
same and by the time the year started, we were even able to help some
of the Russian students who were not so good in their studies.
The days of "honey" do not last long
The first weeks of the Soviet rule seemed like days of honey. However,
this period was done with in no time and many troubles came subsequently
to the town population, particularly to those "richer Jews"
such as the merchants. Many of the Jews were imprisoned and some were
sent to Siberia. Our hopes that the Soviets would recognize our nationalistic
desire disappeared. In town, were many Jewish soldiers from the Red
Army and they would tell us stories that in Russia, they lack nothing,
they had everything they desired. One soldier who fell in love with
a Jewish girl from the town would say in Russian, "Me yee vosof
emiem," meaning, "We have everything." The clowns in
town would say what he means is the word "mayeem" is water
in Hebrew so they do not lack water in Russia. Of the true situation
of the Russian people we would learn from the way the soldiers behaved.
They would buy anything from any merchant in sight. they would even
agree to buy two left shoes with two different colors! Shortly, the
stores were empty of all merchandise and even the local residents were
waiting for the merchants to arrive from Russia. Now, it would come
to the cooperative store and the merchandise would be divided amongst
the residents who would stand in lines to get the rations. The payment
for the supplies was originally with both Soviet and Polish money, Soviet
rubles and Polish zloty. The cooperative stores opened in a few places
in town. The Soviets made a few stores into one big store. Our house
that was part of a store was taken. It became component of a cooperative
of leather goods. The smell of the leather spread all over our house
and it was very hard to breathe. All day long, people would come to
these stores to shop. No one knew what products would be found on a
particular day. The main seller was a Jew from town, Moolah (Shmuel,
the son of Yehoshua Alperovich). He was a true comedian and would have
all kinds of stories to tell. We would come to him and ask in Yiddish,
"Moolah, mas vin hind kind?" Moolah would answer, "Today
only balalaikas." One day, Moolah said that they sold many locks,
but there was only one key to all the locks; still, everyone was ready
to buy the locks.
The authorities fired teachers in the school. This was the situation
of the headmaster, Mataras. To supplant for the fired teachers, they
brought teachers from the Vostok and some local residents became teachers.
One was Yitzchak Zimmerman who was called in town Ytza Ckatzies', meaning
Yitzhak son of Yechezkel. Ytza was known as a very learned man. He became
our teacher for Russian studies. He was renowned amongst the students
and the teachers alike. He was a very educated man, knew the Hebrew
language very well, and would win any argument. He had a good voice
and was very involved in the synagogue. The teacher, Josef Scrantani,
continued teaching. He taught mathematics. His wife became also a Russian
teacher, but their situation was very difficult. Scrantani became sick
with tuberculosis but continued smoking. I, myself, did not smoke. I
was not allowed to according to the rules of HaShomer Hatzair. However,
I had an easy time getting cigarettes so I would buy cigarettes and
come to school to give them to Scrantani pretending as if I, was trying
to stop smoking. The fact that I never saw anyone from the Scrantani
family stand in line for cigarettes or anything else made me think that
I should do something for them. We really believed that sugar had a
heeling effect. During the Polish days, there were posters saying, "Sukiari
keshpeh," meaning, "Sugar makes you strong." Therefore,
I decided to get a large sum of sugar for Scrantani to compensate for
the fact that I was giving him cigarettes that I knew were bad for him.
My sister, Henia, worked as a checker in the restaurant in Vileyka.
I approached her, told her about Scrantani, and asked her to sell me
two bags of 1kg each.
Although it was much more expensive to buy it there, my financial situation
was good so I did not mind paying a higher price if I did not have to
wait in line. Henia gave me the sugar. The next day, I approached Scrantani's
wife. She was very excited when she received the sugar and said, "You
don't know, my dear, how we appreciate your deeds. At the same time,
I think how things have changed. In the old days, I would have been
extremely insulted if someone had tried to help me like this, but these
days things were different. I cannot express how wonderful it is that
you care for Scrantani so." I paid for the sugar with 32 rubbles.
She assumed that I had stood in line and paid me 20 rubbles. I said
that I only paid 10 rubbles so that is what she gave me. Scrantani,
who was a Polish Christian, told Mataras (who was also Christian) about
what I had did for him. Moreover, the reason that I am telling this
story is that they were very helpful to us in the days to come.
Amongst the Christian villages, there was hate of the Soviet rulers.
Many of the villagers who had horses were forced to work for the Soviets.
There were also rumors that soon they would establish Kolchozes and
they would take away the farms including the cows and horses and bring
them there. So now, many of the villagers tried to get rid of their
horses. They would bring them to the meat market and sell them very
cheap. They would pretend that the horses were sick, slaughter them,
and take the skins to sell to the government. The rule was that in order
to establish that a horse was sick, a veterinarian had to assess the
health of the horse. Sometimes, the veterinarian was paid under the
table, so many healthy horses were killed. Many of the Jews and the
local authorities were involved in this practice and were eventually
caught and sent to Siberia. Similar to horses were cows and other livestock.
Those days, many cows were sick with tuberculosis, but many people pretended
that healthy cows were sick with tuberculosis so that they could sell
the cows for meat and leather.
At that time, I remember that my parents bought another cow to add to
the one cow we had prior to that. We bought it from a Christian farmer
named Kostya. Truly, the cow was healthy, yet when they checked her,
they said that she was sick with tuberculosis. Moreover, she must be
slaughtered immediately. Kostya and his wife were very honest people
and came to us saying that when they brought the cow to us she was very
healthy therefore, she turned sick more recent. They told us that as
a consolation they would give us a one-year old calf. At the end, we
did not agree, but we became very friendly with them.
Father the enemy of the proletariat.
At just about the same time, someone told on my father that he used
to be a "major merchant." So on his identification card, it
was put that he was an enemy of the proletariat. It was not enough reason
to send him to Siberia, but he was limited in his ability to get a job
and was only allowed to do menial work. Father, who was only middle
class merchant who had worked in accounting for Gmilut Chesed, now had
to start doing manual work. He would go to work with one of the Gentiles
from town, Meetzkovsky, and would be his assistant in building furnaces.
Father would hand to him the bricks and other materials. Meetzkovsky
was a very friendly person. He could speak Yiddish fluently, and when
he spoke it sometimes, his language would be much nicer than that of
the town's Jews. Not only did the Russians confiscate apartments and
stores, but also the synagogue that was called Beit Hamidrash, where
the Mitnagdim prayed, was confiscated. There were other pray-homes.
Two belonged to the Chassidim and there was a Minyan of the rabbi where
only the most religious of the Chasids would pray. The synagogue they
confiscated became a community center. There were meetings and speeches,
and even movies would be shown there. The Jews took out all the bible
books and the head of the community center took out the beautiful beema
so that the place would be larger inside. Now, most of the townspeople,
Christians and Jews, would come there to watch movies. The older people
of the town would tell how the beema was originally made. In 1924, one
of the former town's residents Max Shulman, who immigrated to the US
and became very rich. Max arrived in town and gave a vast sum of money
for amongst other gifts, to improve the synagogue and put in the beema.
He even brought a painter from Vilna to paint unique scenes for the
Father, in those days, was dreaming of becoming a farmer. , If he had
to do manual work, he decided to get a parcel to farm. At that time,
anyone that lived near by a land parcel was told that he could get the
land next to the house if he wanted to be farmers. Therefore, father
decided to register to get such land. Amid the persons who were granting
the land was a Jew from Russia. He abruptly whispered to my father in
Yiddish, "Da oom vah ava rhysm. Af laka tif din art," meaning,
"Here you must know that a person who owns some land ends up being
buried in the land." Father immediately understood the meaning
and decided to return to his job with Meetzkovsky.
Aunt Reskah's house was also confiscated and now it became the home
for the Russian authorities and my aunt and her children had to leave.
The same was the fate of the house that belonged to the Einbinder family,
the parents of my friend Yetzkaleh.
* Test TimeThe meetings of our Youth Movement became increasingly covert.
Therefore, in many ways this began our underground activities. The core
of the Youth movement for us was our leader Kopel Spektor although he
didn't spend much time in town. Kopel finished his Techniyon studies
in Vilna with very high grades. When the soviets realized his skills,
they sent him to work in Molodetszno where he had a lab. He was working
on an invention. He made something to do with trains.
He was beloved by all of us teenagers and we waited impatiently for
the times he would come to Kurenitz. At some point Josef Kaplan came
to town. He was one of the principal leaders of HaShomer Hatzair in
Eastern Europe and now he came to communicate with us and tell us how
we could still immigrate to Palestine. He told us we should go to Vilna.
From there people would go to Japan and from there somehow to Palestine.
Our friend Chaim Yitzhak Zimerman went to Vilna to inquire about it.
It was very difficult to reach Vilna that now was on other side of border;
therefore, he had to pay large sum of money to bribe someone to let
him proceed. When he returned to Kurenitz with the information needed
some of us prepared to leave for Vilna. However, soon after Vilna became
part of the Soviet Union and this plan was not viable anymore.
One time the chemistry teacher was trying to do an experiment with dangerous
chemical and since I was experienced at such things, I told him this
was dangerous. He told me "if you are so scared go to the back
benches. I immediately did as he told me. I was right and the teacher
while doing the experiment got a burn on his face. The next day I showed
the class how to do it in a safer way. Therefore I got a good grade,
but was sent home for bad behavior being disrespectful to the teacher.
Mother came to the high school to talk to the headmaster the next day.
He was from soviet Russia and he was a Jew, by the name of Fishkin.
She said " there was something wrong with my sons' behavior but
the punishment was too strong. Everyone admitted that there was something
wrong with the way the teacher did the experiment, not only wrong but
also dangerous. Nevertheless, despite the mistake the teacher is staying
in school. My son who is sorry for his behavior is taken out. Is that
justice?" The principal was convinced and I was let back into school.
Mean while since I planed to skip some grades I had to bring note from
doctor that I can withstand such difficult task. A Jewish doctor named
Cyrynsky came to our area in 1937. He was most respected by all. He
was very helpful to the poor people. I went to see him and asked for
a note. He tried to convince me not to take such a difficult task and
asked me why I was in such a hurry to skip grades. I explained the fact
that I was older and eventually he gave me the permission. So I took
the difficult tests and managed to get into eighth grade in high school
in Vileyka. In the evening I would go for classes for ninth grade so
one time, the head of the education department in Vileyka came to see
me during a test he sat in the classroom. When I finished the test,
he came to me. He said "what grade were you in last year?"
I told him "I was in 5th grade". "Can you explain if
you were in 5th grade how are you in 9th grade. In Russia, there was
one person named Lomonosov that was able to do it. You must try to be
Now, I was emotionally prepared to study medicine one day. Some years
before I had another great desire. I was studying Spanish because of
the civil war in Spain. The war of the Republicans against Franco appealed
to the workers all over the world many volunteers came to fight, and
I dreamed of volunteering and thats why I studied Spanish. Finally
we reach June 15 1941 I graduated the ninth grade as I needed to do.
My sister Henia would say that she was ready to clean floors so we will
have enough money to send me to medical school.
The way it began
To run or not to run?
I was able to enjoy my vacation only for a few days. I felt that now
my dreams can be realized and a bright future is waiting for me. Then
the fateful moment of June 22 1941 came, the day of the attack by the
Nazis, their invasion of the USSR. That day at four in the morning the
German planes bombed the train tracks in Molodetszno. People said that
there are many wounded and killed there. Even though there was obvious
pandemonium all around us, the authority in Kurenets tried to come us
down and promised that very soon the Germans will be annihilated, so
we shouldnt panic. Still many of us thought we shouldnt
stay that we must escape east.
People started arguing about what we should do. Should we run or stay?
There was a library on Vileyka Street with many books in Polish, Russian,
Hebrew and Yiddish. For unknown reason, someone from the Soviet authority
ordered to destroy the library and all books were thrown out to the
street. I looked at the books and how ironic, amongst them I found a
Spanish- Yiddish dictionary that I looked for so much a few years ago.
I took the book. I was hopeful at that point and sure that the red army
would overcome the Germans very soon. Someone that saw me with the book
laughed at me and said, "this is an unreasonable time to learn
Spanish now that the Germans are coming you should be learning German".
Guzman, our renter, on the other hand was very sure that the red army
would win soon. He said to me "we'll push them out. The red army
will show the awful nazi that they are not dealing with the Polish army
A few days passed and the Germans were going from one victory to next
and the soviets were retreating from our area. Now the pandemonium was
everywhere. Mother told me that it would be better if I would run away
to the east. She prepared supplies for me. I didn't know what she put
in the bag she just gave it to me and said, "Run away my son, run
east. The situation is very bad". Many started leaving town, in
the neighboring community Ratzke that had about 15 Jewish families;
I met with Meir Mekler, Abba Narutzki, and the son of David the shoemaker.
I also remember a few of the policemen and members of the soviet authority
there. We rested near Ratzke about 8 km from our town. A soviet officer
came to us, told us that the situation in the front is improving, so
there is no reason for us to run east, and we should return to Kurenets.
We didn't trust him and decided to wait there a little longer. It was
around noon and we got hungry. I opened the bag for food, but I found
out that mother instead of food put many cigarette boxes. Again, I realized
how my mother was very clever. Although she knew, I was not smoking.
My youth movement had rules against it, nevertheless she knew that cigarettes
are worth more than money. She was thinking about my future. Therefore,
I gave some cigarettes to one of villagers who gave me food in return.
I shared my food with a girl from Kurenets that was with me.
Most of the people that were with us didn't accept what the officer
said and continued going east. The girl and I decided to return to town.
We reached the village Bogdanova that was 4 km from Kurenets and since
it was already dark, we decided to sleep there and go back in the morning.
We slept under a tree, it was nice summer night, and in the area, there
were many fruit trees.
In days of peace, the Jews would lease those fruit orchards. Early in
the morning, we were awakened by the young villager that took their
cows to pasture. They must have thought that we were lovers. We got
up and returned to town. When we returned we were told those few policemen
that we met in Ratzke also returned but didnt stay long. They
immediately left to go east. Therefore, the evening of June 25 1941
there was no one left from the Russian authority. Everyone went east.
That morning when I passed by house of aunt Reshka that was two years
before confiscated by soviet authority, I decided to enter, there was
no one there. The house was in a total mess. I found many papers, document,
and ids with pictures, so I took many of those documents saying to myself
"who know what the days will bring maybe it can help me some how".
I also went to Chaim Sotzkover's house that was also confiscated by
the soviets prior to the German invasion, and there I found a lot of
papers and I took them too. I returned home, hid everything and went
to rest. I was very tired and fell asleep immediately.
The town was now with no rulers. The villagers from the surrounding
villages started coming to town planning to rob the soviet stores and
the Jews. An amazing phenomenon occurred and that gave us Jews, a little
encouragement. The Christians inhabitant of our town organized a committee
to prevent the villagers from robbing our town. Shortly after we found
out that they were doing it because they didn't want our possessions
to be taken by others.
Dr. Shostakovitch that later was German sympathizer now was with the
Jews, organizing patrol of Christians and Jews and we started a watch
all around the town. This patrol lasted about two days and then the
Christians residents started robbing the soviets supplies and a few
of them took supplied from the Jewish stores. In addition, some of the
villagers managed to come and rob our homes too. I remember something
funny that occurred that if it were not such hard time, it would be
a good comedy. One Jew, Zalman- Neta Wexler Who was very sneaky and
clever, when the gentiles came to rob his house, mixed in with them
and pretended to be one of the robbers and managed to "steal"
some of his own possessions.
On 28th of June 6 days after the war began, a few Germans soldiers entered
the town. They came from Vileyka Street riding motorcycle and cars.
They stopped for a while in the corner of Vileyka street and Smorgon
and continued passed Dolhinov street. The gentiles gave them flowers
and milk. Amongst them were Kasick Sokolovsky that was holding a rifle
in hand, Pietka Gintoff, and Pelvic. The three were later collaborators
and killer of many Jews. Some Jews observed the arrival of the German
soldiers and I was among them. The fact that they cross-town and didnt
strike anyone encouraged us, someone said, "they passed and didn't
cause us any harm, maybe the monster is not so bad".
At 11 in morning, tanks came to town. Now there was ominous predilection.
The soldiers first question when they met us was "how many
Jews are in town?" One of the people who were standing there answered.
A Germans said, "too bad too bad theyll all have to be moved
out of here". Still some Jews said; "don't take it seriously,
he is just talking". Others said that during W.W.I, the German
invasion was good for the Jews.
The picture of the Germans approaching Kurenets and the gentiles giving
them flowers and milk was printed in one of the German newspaper. The
tanks went through Myadel Street to the market center and went east
to Dolhinov. At 1 PM, there was an order by the German that everyone
that has weapon must return it to the authority. Two young boys, cousins,
with the same last and first name- Shimon Zimerman, returned the weapons.
When they return it, they were murdered.
Fear spread all over when we found out about it. Even the ones that
thought the Germans would be okay, from the memories of WW1 were asking,
"What should we do ". They tried to find a reason for the
murder of the two boys. Since the two murdered boys were members of
our youth movement and our good friends, we were all shocked. Nyomka
came to me very upset and said we should do something. Therefore, we
decided that we should all meet with Kopel Spektor and decided what
to do, and this is how our underground activity started.
Kopel said that we must meet in secret place so we met by the swamps
behind the bathhouse. A place crowded with bushes that could not be
seen from the main road. So here we met Kopel Spektor, Nyomka Shulman,
Yitzkale Einbender, Zalman Gurevitch, the brothers Motik and Elik Alperovich,
Yechiel Kremer, Shimon Zirolnik, and I . It was clear to us that in
the coming days, death can come from any corner. We vowed to fight.
The question was how to fight how to get weapon. Our ideas were still
unclear. Someone suggested that in our situation, there is only one
option. Jump on police, kill him and take his weapon. That was they
way of underground. Shimon said that other than physical fight, we must
also have political fight (poster) Propaganda. We must make flyers to
distribute among the villagers, and tell them to fight the Nazis invader.
He told me that I should organize it. I used to work in printing house.
As we came out of bushes, we met Josef Zuckerman who was much older
than us, he told us that a few days ago when Russian left he saw one
of them passed through the swamps threw a gun somewhere. He showed us
where it was. We looked for it and found it, it had three bullets.
Although the two Shimon cousins were killed cruelly, still people try
to not judge the Germans. They wanted to see it was out of ordinary
case and that not foretells of future. People whose homes were taken
by soviets now returned t so that looked to some as a good thing. It
was July 1st, when the Germans actually entered the town and put officers
there. The 1st comment that day was all the male Jews must go to the
towns market to register. Anyone that won't come there will be killed
When we came to the market, we were told that we must chose Jewish committee
Judenrat that will be our communication w the authorities. A refugee
from Austria by the name of Shuts was elected a head of committee. He
came to town in 1939. He was a thrown out of Austria and was hit badly.
When he came to our town he had wound on head but found a place here
and he became German teacher in Polish school and physical education
teacher. He was respected in town and German was excellent so was appropriate
for the job. The SS men that this occasions, the Jews have no rights.
From now on, we were ordered to do whatever told. We have to wear a
yellow tag, must not cross the street, must not go on the sidewalk,
but we had to walk in the middle of the street, like horses. No more
were we allowed on trains or cars. There were curfews at night from
6am to 6pm. We were not allowed to be in-groups of more than three Jews.
We were forbidden to have communication with gentiles. When the SS man
ended his speech, he ordered us to disperse, and everyone left.
A few days later, the German army started coming to town. There was
a never-ending parade of troops driving or walking through Vileyka to
Dolhinov at night. It was impossible to cross the street that was filled
with German soldiers. It was very difficult to take cows to the pasture
during the daytime, so we got up early at 6am when there were few soldiers.
We would somehow manage to cross the street to take the cows to the
pasture. We used to take the cows to an area abundant of grass. I would
usually take the cows and stay all day to 6pm and then I would make
the cows run quickly to get back to our yard. On the way back home,
I had to go by the house of Motka Alperovich. Now the Germans had taken
his house, so this part of the walk was very dangerous. At that point,
we were ordered not only what not to do, but also what we should do
from now on. There was an order that every time we see a German, we
must take our hats off and greet him in respect, in recognition of superiority.
One time when I passed by German, on purpose I didn't take hat off so
they beat me mercifully. Next time I decided to be smarter and walked
without a hat. When they caught me this time, not only did they beat
me up, they shaved my head and gave me a shaved in shape of cross, one
ear to other, forehead to neck. My mother cut all of my hair. The third
time, I was wearing a hat and took it off when they came by. When they
saw that I was baldheaded, they figured I was a Russian soldier, who
escaped from being POW, so for that he would kill me. He was holding
a gun and another German passed by and said to other guy, "Look
this is a perfect example of what Jews look like. You shouldn't kill
him. This time when the time comes for no Jews, he can be an example
of what Jews look like, with long nose." They laughed and let me
go. Even when I think about it today, I cannot believe how sure they
were about their victory thinking that there would one day be no more
Jews left. Sometimes my father will go with the cow and he experienced
the horrible treatment. This was on Kosita Street, not far from the
train track. Some German soldiers came off the train and when they saw
him, they called for him. When he went to them, they beat him severely.
He returned home but didn't tell anyone what happened. Later that day,
he told sister Rachel that she met some German who treated her well
like a human, father got upset and took his shirt off and showed us
his back of injuries. We were shocked and immediately gave him first
aid. He told us of his memories of Germans from WWI. Even then, one
day he was almost killed and it took a miracle to get out alive. From
then on, we started avoiding taking the cow to pasture and most of the
time we would take grass from the field and bring it home for the cow
that stayed in the barn. Not far from our home, between the house of
Wexler family and the house of Yitzhak Moshe Meltzer the hater, there
was a line of stores that were used in the soviet times as supply rooms.
The Germans continued to use the supply rooms and they put flour and
other supplies there. Now they made the Jews carry the sacks full of
flour. One time, when I was carrying a sack on my back, I unintentionally
touched a German that stood guarding us and the flour from my clothes
came onto his uniform. He was very mad and started screaming and told
the other German standing there, when will I get new uniform. I was
in other battles for the homeland in Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Poland
and always, they would give me new clean uniform. So when will I get
one in this war with the communist? His friend said that the day of
victory will come and he'll get new uniform, but until that day, this
Jew will clean it for you. I had no choice, I took a brush and clean
his uniform and knelt to clean his pants.
We decide to fight
A few weeks passed since the announcement of the new rules. Many people
suffered and we only know a little of the suffering. One day at 9am,
we gathered at the house of Nyomka Shulman. Yitzhak Zimerman, who was
much older then us, was member of HaShomer Hatzair from 1928, was also
told of our plans. Nyomka Shulman had a very old and blind grandmother
and she had her own room. Her room was always dark and she seemed as
if she was not aware of the present. All day she would reiterate a passage.
She would say the passage in the Soviet times as in the German days.
"God in heaven please help every Jew and keep every one healthy
and safe." Despite the fact that she seemed not aware of what was
around her, in her passage you could hear something of the horrors outside
the room. Occasionally the old women would leave the room but even when
she sat in the corner, we could discuss everything she was ignoring
the outside world. So now we met, five people, there were Nyomka, Itzka,
Zalman, Shimon, and I to discuss what to do. We all realized that the
situation was getting worse and we must not sit and do nothing. To get
weapons was a intricate assignment and we didn't even fathom what to
do with the weapon once we got it. However at this time we were more
troubled with how to obtain it. Someone said that near the river between
Poken village and Myadel, not far from Chaim Zokofsky carpentry, there
was a rifle. At that time, German took Zokofsky carpentry and it was
dangerous to walk around it at night or morning. Regardless we decided
to check the spot.
Mother was told about it and she suggested she would help. Zalman and
I went with mother. We pretended to be collecting grass for the cow.
Mother thought that if she joined us we would appear less suspicious.
We paced on all sides as if collecting grass and after a while we found
the rifle, we took the sack that we had and put the rifle in the sack
laden with grass. The sack was to short and the rifle stuck out. So
part of the way I put it under my jacket, finally we reached home. When
father saw the rifle, he became worried. He said that we are taking
tremendous responsibility on ourselves. We are playing with fire. Dad
was a traditional Jew even prior to the war but now he became intensely
orthodox. He said "whatever God decided for us, will happen and
we will not change his will". He would continuously say this passage.
Father was now taking part in every funeral in town and at this time,
there were many funerals. One day two young guys, one was Mendel the
grandson of Leib Motosov, the other, Mendel, the grandson of Chaim Velvel,
the owner of a store for metal work, were sent to work in Vileyka. The
order for their new job came from the Gvint Commissar. On the way to
work, they met Shernagovitz, a local policeman that worked for the Germans.
he killed them both on the spot. One gentile from nearby villages found
the bodies and brought them in his buggy to Kurenitz. Leib Motosov,
the grandfather of one of the youths, who was a very intelligent man,
was mourning and extremely distressed, "What is the reason here?
There must be some logic in things." he said, "They were ordered
to go to work by the Gvint commissar. Each one was holding a saw and
ax ready to work as they were ordered." Nevertheless here comes
a policeman and kills them. This is a crime that Gvint commissar could
not ignore. We must complain".
Father believed that everything was decided in heaven, he told us "we
could never understand the reason why things are. Moreover, there's
no reason to complain to Gvint commissar. It will just open the mouth
of Satan". This was in the first month of German rule. People didnt
believe that things that are more awful are going to happen. Moreover,
that they will happen almost daily.
The rifle that we found near the river was hidden in our attic. The
rifle had no bullets. Nevertheless, the ingenious Nyomka Shulman said;
"even if we have no bullets, it's worth something. If you meet
a police, you point the rifle at him, he won't know that you dont
have bullets. The policeman will hesitate and you might be able to overcome
him and take his own weapon". That day we managed to get a gun
from a villager from Volkovishtzina by exchanging some salt and this
gun was hidden also in our attic. In a meeting, in Nyomka's grandmother
room, Shimon suggested again that we should start propaganda and showed
us that he already did something for it. He brought a frame where we
can arrange for a flyer specially made frame that could be used to make
flyers. That same day I almost was killed when I walked through the
market that was usually empty. I heard the voice of German watchman
far from me. He told me to stop, yelling, "why didn't you greet
me?" He started readying his weapon to shoot. I knew that if I
try to run he'd kill me. Therefore, I started to tell him something,
lucky for me an officer came and the soldier changed his tune. He screamed
"bloody Jew get away dont come near me." I was still
afraid that if I did as he said and ran he'd shoot me. For some reason,
the officer permeated me to go home. I didn't know why the first one
was upset and I didn't know why the second one let me go. Therefore
in a hurry, I left the spot.
In the meat market
The victory of the Germans in the front brought many prisoners of war
to town. The meat market became a station for the transferring of thousands
of POWs who continually passed through town. There was barbed wire around
meat market and watchtowers with lights at corners. POWs would stay
one night and would transfer west. Many of them would die there in the
meat market, they would be buried right there, and the next day there
was new group of POWs. Many were wounded and starving and they kept
an extremely inadequate sanitary condition. The gentiles, the residents
of the surroundings towns would stand at side roads and throw food to
them, potatoes, and fruits. They had a lot of compassion for them. The
POWs would run to the food and started fighting each other to get something.
The German that hated any disorder would hit them and threaten the people
that gave them food. "If you want to give them food, it has to
be in orderly manner" they said. The officer would constantly yell,
"there must be order. You must collect the food in one place and
we will divide it amongst the POWs." Many of the Jews brought water
from the well and the river by Dolhinov Street. The POWs that were wounded
badly would be killed prior to arriving at market. However, some badly
wounded POWs would be brought to the other market in buggies. The gentiles
did what they were ordered and put food in one place. The Jews and non-Jews
would take the wounded of the buggies and lie them on the ground as
told. We were ordered by Germans to put the head in one straight line.
At first, we didn't understand why they cared if they were in straight
lines, but soon enough, we learned the reason. The officer stood across
from their headlines with an automatic rifle, opened fire, and killed
all of them.
One day a German officer caught me and Yechiel Kremer, the son of Yekutiel
Meir who was much older then me, and we were ordered to wash the car
of one of the officer. He told us "if I find out that you didn't
clean it well or sabotaged it, I'll kill you like dogs." This was
on Dolhinov Street not far from meat market. He ordered me to take the
wheels off and clean them, at first it was hard. To take them of, but
eventually we did it. Then officer demanded that we would take the seat
covers from the inside of the car and clean the inside. He was teasing
us saying "we are going to Moscow and I must come there with clean
shiny car." When I was done with the job, I asked the German officer
if I could go to eat. While we were standing there, I saw what was happening
in meat market. When I was done with the job the officer decided to
send us to work with the POWs. When we walked there, we passed a garden
in front of the Polish house. I saw that in the bushes close to the
sidewalk there is a weapon. So carefully, I moved the weapon to a more
hidden place in the bushes. When we reached the meat market, we were
told to help with the distribution of food to the POWs, the gentiles
collected it in one area. Amongst the POWs that were brought to the
market, I saw a young Jewish man from Ratzke named Hoinsihof. I saw
that he threw a note on the ground when he saw me,
With his eyes, he signaled to pick up the note. I did it and saw the
first two lines, He was begging me to let his family know he was here.
I threw the note to the side immediately. One of the Germans saw and
thought I was the one drawing the note. I explained to him I saw it
on the ground and was curious. He didn't believe me, put me next to
a wall, called a guard, and said to him; "aim to the head".
Nevertheless, a second later he changed his mind thinking maybe he was
wrong and instead of "fire", he yelled, "halt" meaning
stop. The soldiers put their weapons down. He asked me "are you
going to continue to spy?" I couldnt say a word my tongue
was paralyzed. With the stick he had, he hit my hands and that brought
me back to reality. I explained that I didn't write the note. I'm not
guilty. He listened to my defense but still ordered me to lie on ground
and hit me. Eventually I fainted. They spilled water on my head and
I woke up. Now he let me go home but reminded me I must return to work
the next day. It was already dark and I managed to crawl from the market
to my home. My whole back was full of wounds and blood was pouring everywhere.
My mother put dressings on wounds and although situation was bad, she
was happy I was alive
The POWs continued to pass through town, the situation was heartbreaking,
and one day we met at Nyomka and talked about the POWs how we can help
We decided to do something. We went to the Judenrat and demanded that
the Shuts will send us to work in meat market. While we were working
there, some of us managed to give the POWs clothes. When we left a few
to escape with us. Among the escapees was a man that later on was code
named Vlodia and became one of the underground leaders in our area.
The sight we saw in the meat market was horrible. It was so crowded
that some POWs couldnt find place to lie and rest. During the
day the place was enveloped by flies, the heat was unbearable, and at
night, it got cold. The POWs who still had some capabilities managed
to cut pieces of wood for little fire to keep warm. I can never forget
one of the POWs from what was left of uniform I could tell he was an
officer. He managed to get water, he washed and changes clothes. He
arranged a fire pit to warm himself. One German was looking at him the
entire time, and didn't like what he saw. He approached him from behind
and with great force, hit him on back with rifle. The officer collapsed
Even at that point, some believed that the soviets would overthrow the
Germans. Our group would discuss the subject but we didnt know
how to help the Russians. Shimon Zirolnik would particularly talk about
it, he believed that the day of revenge would come soon. Moreover, the
Nazis would be annihilated in a short time. In the meat market, the
Germans put electric light so they could watch the POWs at night. The
villagers brought food and clothes since they felt pity for the POWs
who many times walked around almost naked. The clothes would be put
in one pile. They were rumors that among POWs many managed to get clothes
and then mix with people that came to work and escape. I was prototypical
Jewish looking and the POWs knew that they needn't fear me. I was approached
by one of POWs and asked how he could escape. I pointed to clothes and
he understood my sign and managed to escape. One night the electric
power was cut off and there was darkness. People were whispering in
secret that it was done by Dania Alperovich the son of Chaim Abraham
that worked in carpentry of Chaim Zokofsky. The carpentry was right
next to meat market and the electricity lines were going through the
carpentry. Among the escapees that day were two POWs who managed to
reach the Ungerman pool. When they realize that someone was following
them they hid under bridge and there they were found and murdered.
It was the end of august and the nights became colder. We still met
at Nyomka's house and still didnt know what to do. Shimon was
very excited about the POWs that escaped. He said that some were experienced
soldiers and they could help us with the resistance unit. He suggested
that we will make flyers and maybe they will reach some POWs that escaped
and are now in hiding. Meanwhile he improved the printing press still
there was a problem. We didn't have letters to be used for the printing.
Josef Norman, the man that I learned to print with, was working in the
printing press that was now in the hands of the Germans. Therefore,
we decided that I would meet with him and tell him our plan. Maybe we
can get the letters from him.
The first days the Germans entered the Vileyka district, they ordered
all the Jewish males from Vileyka to come to a certain place. From there,
they took them to a bridge next to the river and murdered them. The
few that didn't show up as the German ordered managed to survive. Now
many Jews of Kurenets were taken under watch of the police to Vileyka
to do different jobs; cutting woods, cleaning streets, Park and other
work. I was also taken. One day when I was near the printing place,
I found the courage, entered the building, and met Josef. I notified
him promptly what I wanted, whispering for him to collect a few letters
for me. When I came 3 days later, he gave me a little package with letters,
papers, and black ink. We manage to meet few times and eventually I
had lot of letters and printing materials to accomplish the mission.
The Germans at that point were not watching us strictly. If they were
suspicious of anything, they would just kill us on the spot. Thats
why it was doable. My mother helped me. She took piece of clothes and
sewed lines on pockets and thats where I held the letters. In
each pocket, I had a different letter. We thought that if there was
a danger moment, we could immediately use the cloth as apron and wouldnt
look so suspicious. One day when we returned from Vileyka to Kurenets
and I had little package from Josef. The German started taking us to
different location. I was very worried, but soon we realized that they
wanted to show us something- two gentiles they hung for robbing someone.
They wanted us to see what happened to all that disobeyed. After that,
they let us go home. When I went home, I saw that they also hung someone
in town center 4 robbing.
We dug hideout in the ground and in there; I hid the letter and printing
materials. Except for my cousin Zalman, no one knew where we are making
the printing material. Even our own troop members did not know. We decided
that if anyone would get caught its better if they didn't know where
it was. At that time, the house of Nathan, my uncle, also became the
center for our meeting. Nathan that sensed that we are doing something
dangerous was very fearful. Nathan's wife, Batia nee Ayeshiski was sick,
she was in a nursing home when the war started. She tried to go back
home, but she died from starvation on the road. Nathan felt very responsible
for his orphaned children and was fearful that what Zalman was doing
would cause danger to his other children.
At that time the Germans printed flyers to the villagers saying,"
farmer keep your bread dont give it to the criminals. They will
eat it and then they would hurt you and burn your farm. Keep your bread
for German army that released you from communism." As an answer
our first flyer was written by Shimon Zirolnik, it said "farmer
keep your bread for yourself and your heroic brothers that fight the
horrible conqueror. Don't give one seed to Germans. Death to Hitler".
We printed about 100 and distributed them in various places. Our Shimon
was able to see the first flyer but a few days later Shimon didnt
come to the meeting. We found out he was imprisoned, together with him
a non-Jew farmer was taken and also another town's resident imprisoned,
our town barber Leibe with the beautiful voice. When he would cut hair,
he would sing beautiful songs. After a period, we found out that the
Germans murdered them and it was horrible blow to us, We so loved Shimon.
If I mention the barber Leibe, I must tell in a few words about him.
As I told you while he cut hair, he would sing songs. I still remember
one of his songs that he sang in Russian. He would sing it with deep
_expression, and it would go like this." I will die I will die
they will bury me and no one will know where my grave is and no one
will know to come to my grave. But one morning of spring a nightingale
would see it and sing." How ironic is the song, could Leibe ever
imagine that this song would faithfully tell what was going to occur?
During that time, there was little underground activity in our area.
There were rumors the Russian parachuted some troops and they managed
to burn many German supply rooms and thats what the Germans were
referring to in the flyers regarding the criminals. Our own flyers were
found by Jews from the town and this gave them hope that there is underground.
Someone even showed me a flyer. Zalman Gurevitch that had many friends
among the villagers helped a lot with the flyers. He knew who should
be informed. Moreover, he knew who could distribute it amongst the population.
No Secrets The desire to do something, to fight, existed
in many Jews, but the possibilities were close to nil. As far as us,
our small group, we were particularly united since we had a similar
past with strong ties to the youth movement. Added to it was our being
so young and still believing in the impossible. At times we had emotional
pleas from older people as well as very young to join our company. I
remember how once, Shimon Alperovich, the son of Zishka (son of Shimon),
came to the house of Nyomka Schulman when we gathered there. Shimon
was much older than we were and he was a very respected person. And
now he approached us sounding very worried and not knowing where to
receive help. He asked us to let him join our group. In Yiddish he said,
Fragst nit anmir or Dont forget me. He
was almost begging. [Later on he joined the partisans and died fighting.]
Also very emotional was the plea of Araleh Gordon, son of Shaptai, brother
of Riva and Mikhla, who was much younger than us, still a child. He
asked us to join. We said to him, Araleh, do you have a weapon?
And Araleh naively and with a hint of embarrassment said he didnt
have a weapon at the time but he knew how to play the mandolin. He tried
to explain to us that for the resistance there was a need for social
life and until the day he received a weapon he could be an entertainer.
Until today I feel excitement when I remember his plea. We were sure
that our resistance unit was secret and soon it was clear to us that
there were no secrets in our world and that many knew about our unit.
We still had a very unclear idea as to how we would resist, and many
would come to us urging us to take them into our ranks. [Araleh was
Gordon killed while hiding from the Germans (in a tree?)]
Chaim Zukovsky owned a tartuk (?) and a mill (for carpentry) that had
been taken away by the Nazis, and now an Army officer managed it. Someone
told us in secret that the officer was actually a decent man, a unique
person who disliked the Germans behavior towards the Jews. To
us it was an unbelievable phenomenon, particularly remembering our neighbor
Shernagovitz, the killer who killed Jews daily, so to find a person
among the Germans who was such a righteous person was a true miracle.
We were told that once when the drunken Shernagovitz approached the
area aiming to torture the Jews who worked there, the German hid them
inside a cold boiler and saved them from being murdered. We somehow
found out that this German was willing to sell weapons to the Jews.
I dont remember now who gave us this information, but we found
out that he was willing to sell a Nagan with seven bullets for ten golden
rubles. We gave the money to Yankeleh, the son of Chaim Zalman, so he
could give the money to the son of Lazar Shlomo, who had contacts with
the German man, and he bought the weapon. When we sent someone to Lazar
Shlomo to transfer the Nagan to us, he refused to give us the weapon,
so we decided to trick him into returning the weapon. Some of us approached
his house at a night hour when there was a curfew. We pretended to be
Germans and yelled, Juden arouse!
We gave them enough time to run, and when we found out that they had
hidden and the house was empty, we put a note where we said if they
will not give us the weapon, the consequences would be severe. We sent
Yankeleh the son of Chaim Zalman Gurevich, and he also wanted to keep
the weapon for himself after receiving it, but after some threats he
gave it to us. I point this out to you to show how many wanted weapons
so they could fight the Germans.
The Germans kept demanding money from the Judenrat. Some of the members
of the Judenrat were dishonest and took some of the money for themselves.
In our home there was a new couch and carpet that we bought before the
war for my sister Henia who was about to be married. When the war started,
Henias groom was taken to the Polish Army and died during battle
between the Polish and the Germans. One of the Judenrat people who was
the very worst among them, knew about the sofa and the carpet, so now
he demanded that we should give those things to the Germans who asked
for furniture and carpets. My sister Henia was very much against it.
These things were very dear to her as a reminder of her dead groom.
And she asked that they should be left with her. The Judenrat man slapped
her and took her things by force. When I found out about it, I came
to the Judenrat and I said to the man, :You must know that we will never
let you, a Jew, slap another Jew. Its enough the way we are treated
by the Germans.
He answered, yelling, What do you think? Do you think I am afraid
of your gun? DO you think I dont know you own a gun?
It is not a secret I have a gun, I replied and pulled out
my weapon. He must not have thought Id react so fast and he went
pale and never came to our home again.
The head of the Judenrat and some of its members were new arrivals from
other towns. They were not always decent or honest, and it wasnt
the rescue of the community that was first on their minds. The people
who were the public servants before, whose names were famous for dedication
and good deeds, like Zalman Gvint and others like him, clearly knew
that being a member in the Judenrat meant that having to fulfill the
wishes of the Germans, and they could never accept such a job. Zalman
Gvint, who was experienced with pharmaceuticals, this time established
an enterprise, together with Nathan Gurevich, to make chemicals for
soap, shoe polish, and ink. They also suffered much at the hands of
the Judenrat, who demanded their products. Leib Motosov had a place
in the deep forest before the war that made turpentine and tar. He knew
all the little paths in the forest. HE also clearly understood that
the Nazis would soon annihilate us. So he came to Zalman Gvint, who
agreed with him and suggested that they should escape to the forest,
where he knew many of the villagers in the area and he thought that
since they were friends they would help him. They started planning their
escape. I also remember that my mother in those days talked a lot about
leaving the town and escape to the forest. While everyone was planning
such an escape, a tragic event took place. Some families who escaped
to the forest, among them Zishka Alperovichs family, secretly
from everyone, escaped to the forest, but someone told about them and
the mutilated bodies where brought to town. It was a huge disappointment
for all that dreamed of going to the forest, and momentarily shocked
everyone and caused them to postpone their plans. Nyomka Shulman, who
was very energetic and a go-getter, was still full of excitement and
plans. He was the leader of our group, and he came with an idea to uplift
the spirits of the people. We did something that was dishonest, that
we should not have done. We made a pamphlet of encouragement, filled
with imaginary events that had no basis in reality. In this pamphlet
we wrote that the wonderful Red Army pushed the Germans out of the Polaczek
area and soon would free our entire area. We ended it with writing,
Death to Hitler.
There was a rumor that something might happen in Polaczek, but to say
that the Germans lost there was a greatly exaggerated statement. Anyway,
the Jews found great encouragement from this pamphlet and conversed
about it, especially Motl Leib Kuperstock, who used to have a flourmill.
He would stand in the synagogue amongst the Jews spreading the rumors
that the pamphlet had come from the Soviets. They beat the Germans,
he would tell everyone, and were going through Polaczek. And this had
to have been done by planes, he added, and since we were only 120 km
from there, it would not take long until they arrived at our area. Motl
Leib was very interested in politics and strategies. There was a time
when he lived in the US, and he knew how to add certain sentences in
English that greatly impressed the people, the residents of the town.
Amongst the people who conversed with him, there was someone who took
his samples and said he really knew that the retreat of the Soviets
was only a trick, and they would quickly show the Nazis their might.
For some days they were conversing like this, but there was a great
disappointment when nothing happened. We felt bad for what we did and
from then on we decided to write only real news.
Time passed and Noach Dinestein (put picture here) from Vileyka joined
our group. [PICTURE OF NOACH DINESTEIN]. He was older than us but was
once a soldier in the Polish Army. In 1939, when the Germans and the
Polish fought, he was drafted. After a battle with the Germans, his
unit suffered greatly. He was somehow able to escape and he came back
to our area. When the Germans killed the man in Vileyka near the bridge
on the Vilia during the first month of the war in our area, Noach somehow
escaped from the place and arrived at Kurenets. Here he taught us how
to use weapons and trained us in other military operations. The
Code Name is Volodia
[PICTURE OF VOLODIA] One day I was told that a Christian person
had come to our house and asked for me. She later returned and met with
me. It was a young village girl who looked much like a Christian but
she was really a Jewish girl by the name of Bertha Dimmenstein from
the village Khalafi, a little village near Vileyka. I Didnt know
her earlier and had no idea she was Jewish. She showed me our first
pamphlet and said that she knew there was a secret printing press in
Kurenets. I was very worried and I pretended to know nothing about it.
I continued being worried when she told me she belonged to a group of
young villagers who organized themselves to fight the nazis. She said
that these young villagers wanted to meet us since they knew we were
also an underground unit. She also told me that she had a text that
was ready to be printed by our unit. She said to me that if I could
print the text it would be proof that they could rely on us and they
would get in touch for later missions.
She said she would come back the next day and take the pamphlets and
they would distribute it on their own. The text she gave me was very
similar to what we had written. It was asking the locals to organize
against the Nazi invaders and unite with the resistance. I was very
confused and didnt know if I should trust her. I called my friends
for a meeting. Amongst them were Eliyau Alperovich, Itzkaleh Einbender,
Zalman Gurevich, Noach Dinestein, and Nyomka Shulman at whose house
the meeting took place. We met in the dark room in their home. Once
again, the question arose if there was someone tricking us. Some thought
positively, some thought negatively. I thought that we should wait for
a moment, but Nyomka Shulman finally won. He said that there was no
reason to wait, we must print the pamphlet. So, already that night I
sat in our hideout and joined letter to letter and after a short time,
the pamphlet was ready. I only printed 20 copies. I thought that to
prove our loyalty and reliability that this was sufficient. All the
time I was very fearful that Bertha would arrive with someone from the
authorities, and a big rock came off my heart when I realized she had
come alone. I explained to her that I could only print 20 pamphlets.
Bertha took it and promised to return shortly. Many years later, when
I met Josef Norman in Israel, he told me how Bertha had found out about
me. Bertha, who knew Josef from Vileyka and knew that he was working
in the printing house, thought that Josef might know something about
those secret pamphlets. So when she met him, he told her about me. He
knew that she was very reliable and didnt hesitate to give her
all the information. And this was how she found me.
Shortly after, Bertha returned and told me that their unit was ready
to join with us for missions. She also told me that eventually they
were planning on going to the forest, and there start fighting the Nazis.
She also asked me if we had any weapons. I told her that we had only
two rifles. I didnt tell her about the guns. She suggested one
of our people should come to them. The meeting would take place in the
village Volkoviczina. At the entrance to the village, she said, there
was a small building, a Christian prayer house. She said that one of
our people should there during a certain night, and there he would call
a certain code word which would let him into the house. The code word
Once again, we met. The energetic Nyomka insisted that he should be
the first messenger. Nyomka went during a late night hour and met with
one of their people. The guy suggested at this point we should keep
our group small and not add any members. Most of our energy should be
put in collecting weapons and food to be ready to go to the forest.
During that meeting the man told Nyomka he must never come to Volkoviczina
without being first contacted by them. We would receive orders from
them,. And Bertha would be the main contact. Most important, from now
on the code word would be Volodia. Nyomka slept there, and the next
day, early in the morning, he returned to town and told us all the details.
At about that time I was told by Josef Norman saying he could not give
me any more letters since they realized that something was not right
at the printing press, and they thought something dangerous was going
At this point, the Germans only killed single Jews in Kurenets, here
and there in small numbers, and life continued like that until Simha
Torah in 1941 when they killed 54 Jews of Kurenets. The Fifty
Four During the days in years of peace and quiet are called the
Days of the Torment. The synagogues were filled with people praying.
Most people seemed a bit frozen. They didnt scream or cry. To
the people on the outside it seemed as if people had put up some kind
of barrier, but it seems that in the synagogue, this barrier was broken.
The tears and the cries were heartbreaking, and the line of the people
who said kaddish for the dead was very long. The people in our group
who were secular in nature, also went to the synagogue. The management
of the old carpentry mill of Zukovsky called Kopel Spektor since there
was something wrong with the main machine there. Maybe now it is time
to talk about Kopel. [INSER PICTURE OF KOPEL]
There was something kept very secretly. During the Soviet days, Kopel
who was an engineer and an inventor, worked on a machine to automatically
load coal to keep train engine fires going. It was almost ready to be
patented when the war started. In the train station in Molodetszno,
Kopel had a laboratory where he had all the papers that had to do with
his invention. During the war between the Germans and the Soviets, he
went to his laboratory and burned his papers and inventions so they
would not fall into the hands of the Nazis.
Back to that Simha Torah
As usual we went that day to Vileyka.
At first walked the women, and I along with the men walked at the back.
We passed by the village Zimordra, and all of a sudden, two policemen
from Kurenets and collaborators with the Nazis, Pietka Dovsky and Pietka
Gintov, who studied with me at the Polish school, appeared and ordered
me to return to Kurenets. I felt that there was some danger facing me,
so I asked, Pietka, why do you stop me? We used to be friends.
Satan is your friend, Pietka answered, Not me. Come
SO I was brought to town and put in the store of Itzka Leahs,
the place the police now used to keep prisoners. When I got there I
met other Jews from the town, amongst them Kazdan, Chaim Zukovsky, Zev
Rabunski, and others, more than 20 people. Once in a while e they would
bring new prisoners. We looked outside the windows and saw they had
collected the families of the prisoners. One person who was with us
said he was arrested for the red flag found in his home. During Soviet
days, everyone had a red flag, and he forgot about it. Now he was taken
to the prison along with his flag. Some of the prisoners started screaming
that for this flag, everyone would be killed. They wanted to take the
flag, rip it, throw it on the ground and cover it with their shoes.
While talking about it, the police came in and took out ten people.
We watched through the shutters as these people were given the hose
and marched away. Once again people wondered what was going on. Some
said they were being taken out for a job. Chaim Zukovsky, who was badly
beaten and depressed said they were not being taken to work, but were
being taken to dig their own graves. All of a sudden the door opened
and to the room and into it came a German Oberlieutenant who called
me by name. He took me outside and told me that I should point to my
relatives who were standing outside. This is my mother and those
are my sisters. I pointed to my mother, Rohaleh, Rashkaleh, and
Take them and go home, the officer told me, and I was ready
to do it but all of a sudden he hesitated as if he changed his mind.
Jew, you still need to receive some beatings.
I lay on the ground in the presence of my mother and sisters, and he
beat me many times. Finally he stopped and ordered me to leave. I could
hardly get up, and left with my mother Rohaleh. I had no idea why I
was taken out of the prison room and separated from the 54 Jews who
were residents of our town who were murdered that day. After they got
the hose, they were made to dig their own graves as Chaim Zukovsky foretold
while we were in there. When we got home, my sister Doba said she saw
me being taken out of the people who went to Vileyka and she recognized
my life was in danger, so she left the group of girls and ran to Kurenets.
As soon as she got home she told my mother what happened. They knew
it was a very dangerous situation and they had to do something immediately.
Without hesitation they immediately went to the Polish teacher Mataroz
to ask for his help. In town people already knew that the Germans were
planning on doing something against the Communists. They decided that
my father and my sister Henia, who were known as communists, should
escape and take the cows to the meadow. So when they came for them they
couldnt find them home. Rohaleh and Doba asked Mataroz, who liked
me very much from when I was student, and who was now the mayor of the
town appointed by the Germans, and they told him about my imprisonment.
As soon as they left Mataroz, they were taken by the police, as well
as my mother and Rashkaleh, and it was Mataroz who decided to save us
all from our deaths. Two days later I went to Mataroz to thank him for
what he had done. At that point we were all heartbroken over what had
happened in town. He asked me to sit down and I told him I could not
sit down since my back had awful wounds from the beatings I had received.
When I thanked him he said I shouldnt thank him, and that I should
pray to God and stay a human being as I had been in the past, and stay
decent despite the tortures that occurred every day.
I was strong in my wish that for thanks we should give him some materials
from the old store we used to own. Materials could be used for suits
for him and his son. He was very much against it and got mad at me.
I was very embarrassed and didnt know what to do, so I suggested
something else. I asked that he should receive our cow since our lives
seemed to be pretty much over with or without a cow. He answered that
he agreed to take the cow since we had such troubles even trying to
take it to the meadow, but he had one condition. He would take it if
we would receive half of the milk from the cow each time he milked it.
I said to him that this could cause him great troubles as the mayor
of a town sending milk to a Jewish family. At the end we reached an
agreement and gave him the cow. Secretly, in all sorts of ways, he was
able to transfer milk to us. Now I know how he saved me from certain
death: after Doba and Rohaleh visited him, he went to the German officer,
who was conducting the murder of the 54 people for being Communists.
He told the officer of how I helped him during the Soviet days by giving
sugar and food to the teacher Skarntani, who was anti-Communist, and
that I had helped him when he was very sick and put myself in danger.
This proved I was anti-Communist, so I could not be blamed for Communism.
The officer accepted his opinion, and this was how I was rescued.
The Jews were shocked at the killing of the 54 who were supposedly Communists.
Everyone was talking about how the 54 men, women, and children were
taken to the forest of Lovitz, and there they were ordered to dig their
graves before they were killed. The Christians, especially the villagers
who were present told many stories about the killing, especially the
brave stand of Yankeleh Orchiks (son) Alperovich. When Yankeleh
stood at his open grave, he asked the officer who was ordering the killings,
IF you kill me because I am a Jew, there is nothing I can do since
I am a Jew and this is my faith. But if you kill me if I am a Communist,
you should know the Soviets sent my father to Siberia since I am an
anti-Communist. Can you really believe that my father who is being tortured
in Siberia is a Communist? The officer decided to release him
as well as his younger brother. The Christians who were watching admitted
that Orchik Alperovich was sent to Siberia.
They also told about Tevel Alperovich, the son of Pinhas the butcher.
Tevel, who was a very strong and good looking man, was able to escape
from the killers but he encountered Volodka, the son of Mishka from
the alley. With a hoe in his hand, he hit him on the head and wounded
him. Then he called the Germans to kill him. The reason why the Christians
would gather in such places to watch the killings was so they could
collect their belongings such as clothes, shoes, etc. Some of the Christians
would. Some of the Christians would sing while the Jews were being taken
to their deaths. They made a song singing, Zhydi, zhydi, tzerti.
Kali vas femerti, which means Jews the son of Satan, die
already! When? When? During their singing they would sometimes
throw rocks at the Jews and curse them. Many of the Jews in town wanted
to believe the Germans; that this murder was meant only for Communists.
They were hoping that now all the murders would be done with, but our
group, as well as many others in Kurenets, knew that this would not
be the end, that it was only the first in systematic killings, and our
desire to fight increased tenfold.
For My Benefactor, Mataroz Once again, I visited Mataroz. Mataroz,
in his true nature, was liberal. As far as the Jews, he tried to help,
and this was not unknown by the Belarussian population, and they greatly
disliked him. One of his opponents was the son of the felcher, Surikvas.
There was a certain rumor that the son secretly put in Matarozs
office a picture of Pilsudski, and told the German police that Mataroz
was secretly organizing Polish resistance. The Germans imprisoned him
but he was somehow immediately returned to become mayor. [Reminder:
the Germans killed him with his family]
I came to Mataroz after he asked me to come to him. He immediately told
me that murder is facing me everywhere I go, and that he would try to
help me. Further, he said, You must know that between wishes and
ability there is a big distance. I truly wish that all my students will
survive, but what can I really do? As far as you are concerned, I suggest
you come to the school as a laborer doing cleaning and cutting wood
for the fire, as well as operating the furnaces.
At that point he was no longer head of the school, but since he was
mayor he was able to do it. He was also in cahoots with one of the teachers.
He still said to me that I must be very careful to be there only when
the school was empty of students. I later found out that the person
he was in touch with was the wife of Skrentani, who was a teacher in
the school. Skretntani himself worked for Mataroz in the municipal building,
as head of the food distribution department.
I was told to be in school in the afternoon hours until the time of
curfew, when I was supposed to be home. Mataroz said that since danger
faced me in every direction, it would be easier to escape from the school
in times of extreme danger than from places where Jews were plentiful.
Further, he said he would try to get me a special permit was worker
of the municipality, so I could work outdoors even during curfew hours.
Once again he emphasized that in case of an action where they would
kill the Jews, I would have to hide in the school. There would be a
greater chance of survival there since it was unlikely that they would
look for Jews in the school, there was a huge basement with many secret
corners that I could hide in. He also gave me a letter to take to the
police which asked for permission to work at night since I needed to
clean the school after the students left. When I entered the school
I only found Baliznuk, who was known as the most evil torturer. :How
do you think this will help you? With such a Jewish face, how to get
a permission from the police? He started laughing.
Before I would ever get a look at the permission you might receive,
I will shoot you with a bullet and the permission will not bring you
back to life. Still, he gave me the permission.
In the school worked a Polish woman that explained to me my duties.
She was generally kind to me but she was very fearful that my presence
in the school would hurt her. She begged me that I should be very careful
and to make sure that no one would suspect that she hides a Jew at the
school. Every time she had a hint of danger she would quickly tell me
to go hide in the basement.
The first day after finishing my work I didnt stay at school.
I went home with my permit. This was a late night hour, I passed quietly
the market, and saw not one living soul; no Germans, no policemen. When
I told my friend about it, someone said that even the Germans were afraid
to walk around at night and we felt some pleasure in knowing that. I
dont know if it was smart but I always held my gun with the three
bullets, but I didnt know if they were viable. I was thinking
that if someone bothered me at night, I would draw the gun and this
would hopefully be enough. One night I remembered that I hid a knife
in the gardens near the school. I went there and found it, and took
it to our cowshed, and there I covered it in a rag and hid it.
Nights passed and no one bothered me. The only person that seemed to
follow me with her eyes was was my mother, who stood by the window and
looked out from behind the shutters to see if I was coming. Only when
I arrived could she sleep. She begged that I stay in the school and
not come at night. One night, when I returned home, all of a sudden
I heard a shout of, Stoi, stoi! which means Stand!
Stand! I Was very scared that someone was shooting my direction.
I went in the gardens behind the homes until I reached the middle synagogue.
I went to the central floor where the women sat, and slept. In the morning
I came home and found my mother very fearful. As it turned out she didnt
sleep a wink that night. She also heard the shouts and thought that
maybe I was killed. The next day we found out that this was a drunk
policeman who yelled at a pig to quiet down. When the pig didnt
listen, he shot it. From that night on I stayed in the schools
basement, and only when morning came did I return home.
In the basement I found a small tool that could be used for counterfeit
money. I thought that I might be able to use it to counterfeit ID cards,
but for the meantime I left it there. Zalman Gurevich was able to connect
with Kostya from the village Litvinki. He was the son of Januk. Anyway,
he sold Zalman a gun with a few bullets.
The winter of 1941-42, was a very difficult winter. The hope that the
so-called Communist Jews would be the last to be killed proved wrong.
One day the Germans came from Vileyka and kidnapped some Jews, and demanded
they take their clothes off . Half-naked they put them on cars and drove
them through town. The Jews in town were told that they must pay large
sums of money in order to avoid their killing. The large sums were paid.
On another day, the killers Egov and Shernagovitz, played a bloody game.
They killed 13 Jews, amongst them the rabbi of the town Rav Moshe Aharon
Feldman. He was a gentle soul, pure and honest. His death was very torturous.
They broke his arms and legs, and his entire body until he passed away.
His body was put for days out in the main market until finally the killers
allowed the Jews to bring him to burial. Our group continued to meet,
fully knowing that our fate was written and our situation would become
worse and worse. As I said before, many tried to join us. Amongst them
Shimon Alperovich, who eventually was added to our ranks. When I speak
of that, I remember the image of Arczik Shulman [great-grandfather of
translator], the father of Nyomka, who was a tanner in his profession.
He knew very well what we were talking about in the dark room in his
home, but never, ever tried to say anything against it. We felt very
much that in his quietness there was a full agreement with what we were
doing. One day, Lazar Shlomo said to him, Arczik, dont think
for a moment that I dont know that your son came one night behind
my home to scare me. You must know that those children, and amongst
them your son Nyomka, are playing with fire.
In those days it was enough for one tiny ember to spark a great fire
that could engulf the entire community of Jewish Kurenets. He was referring
to the time we demanded that he return the gun that we had bought. Although
Nyomkas father, Arczik, told us about the meeting, he was not
complaining. He told it to us only for informative purposes.
Mataroz also arranged for Nyomka to work for the municipality. Nyomka
became responsible for the warehouses where the food was stored. During
the wartime, the town had no money and payments were done with an exchange
A Tale of a Mouse and a Tartar As soon as Bertha found out that
Nyomka was responsible for the food warehouses, she decided that this
could be used for our missions, so once in a while, someone would come
from Berthas group to Nyomka and would take food supplies secretly
to Volkoviczina. This took place shortly after Mataroz was imprisoned
one day and later released. Bertha told me there were rumors he would
be imprisoned again. They found out that someone was spreading rumors
against him. Anyway, sometime around January of 1942, or maybe February,
on a Sunday that was very cold, I collected papers and put them in a
container near the furnace. I didnt pay attention, but while I
Was transferring the papers to the furnace, a big mouse somehow went
in and when I threw the papers, he started burning and the smell became
horrible. Although I opened the furnace, it didnt help, so when
the students came back on Monday the smell was horrible. Mataroz called
me to his office immediately.
What happened? he asked me when we were alone. I told him
about the mouse, and while we were conversing he told me he heard a
rumor that Nyomka was taking certain provisions from the warehouses
and transferring them to underground elements. He was worried about
the idea of Nyomka putting himself in such danger and not keeping our
secrecy well enough. While talking he asked me all of a sudden, And
what about you? IT is clear in such situations you will not be able
to continue working in school. Are you also thinking of joining some
I was not worried about Mataroz and I was very honest with him. I said
I belonged to such a group and I urged him to join us. He immediately
answered, My dear, our ways are very different, and what is appropriate
for you is not appropriate for me. Our ways are very different.
I answered, Our ways may be different, but our enemy is the same
He looked at me with a sad _expression and said, Go, child, and
may God take you on the right route. But remember to be careful and
not to burn any mice. To Nyomka Shulman, tell him to be very careful
too. [About six months later, in the summer of 1942, the Germans
killed Mataroz and his family
At that point I would stay in school at nights and during the day I
would write pamphlets for Bertha. As soon as my mother would see me
put my boots on, she knew I was going to a place other than the school
and ask me, Where are you going, Nachum? You must tell me.
I tried very hard not to tell her and explained to her why it was important
she not know. As I told you before about the time I found the
old Soviet IDs in the apartment of Aunt Rashkas, [which was used
as the headquarters of the Soviets from 1939 to 1941], I used one of
the IDs with one of my pictures and used the name Hantieb (a Tartar
name) and I kept working on saying my name and information in a Tartar
My mother, who knew of my doings and very much agreed with me that I
should help the resistance asked, What do you need with these
fake IDs? They will not help you, they ill only cause you trouble.
Look, mother, there is much value in these fake names. If I am
killed an they find this ID, they will think I am a Tartar in the service
of the Soviets and they will not come to Kurenets to as questions. But
in case I am only wounded and they torture me, they might come to you
and its better if you dont know any information.
MY mother accepted my explanation and didnt ask anymore. The
other people with Bertha were Ivan Sirotzin, Basilik, Yorka Balashov,
Matyo Kevitz, Nikolai Sirotzin, Sovatz, and Zina Bitzon, all non-Jews.
At this point, all we did was print pamphlets and talk about going to
the forest. At that point we had already printed 20 different pamphlets.
We waited impatiently for the winter to pass, and the dream to go to
the forest was postponed..
As time passed, the partisans in Volkoviczina were enlarged. At the
head of the group was Volodia [codename], who escaped from the POW camp
in Kurenets, and now worked for one of the villagers.
In the month of February of 1942, we were invited to meet the partisan
troop. One night Itzkaleh Einbender, Nyomka Shulman, Zalman Gurevich
and I, were invited to come to Volkoviczina. We arrived at a small forest
at the edge of the village, and there we met with Volodia, the head
of the troop after saying the code word Volodia. He urged
us to collect weapons and to ready ourselves to go to the forest at
the end of the winter. He also told us to prepare clothes and food,
but to keep everything very secretly. After he found out that I was
the one responsible for the pamphlets, he said that they were planning
on writing a periodical newsletter, and for that the supplies I had
would not be enough, so he urged me to go to work at a printing press
in Vileyka, where I might be able to confiscate some more letters. He
also urged us to give them all the rifles and weapons we had so they
could keep them for us until we moved to the forest. We sat with him
for half an hour and then returned to Kurenets. We went in a roundabout
way so they couldnt find us. Through the fields that took us to
the forest of Tzavina, and then we separated and each one went to his
home, back to the daily tortures of our lives.
Nyomka continued to transfer products to the Volkoviczina group, and
Bertha would visit us and tell us news she had heard on the radio about
the situation on the front. One Sunday we once again went to Volkoviczina
and returned at a very late hour. We used the fields by Smorgon Street
and not Vileyka Street. Vileyka Street used to be the street that people
took long walks on. It had old cedar trees, and it would take you to
Jewish Vileyka. But now there was no more Jewish Vileyka, and Vileyka
Street was also out of our reach as Jews, since now the German police
was situated there, so we returned home in a roundabout way, and arrived
in the village Tzavina. Itzkaleh, Nyomka, Zalman, Yorka Balshov (a non-Jewish
partisan from the Volkoviczina troop) and I. Yorka came from the Vostok
(the east, Soviet territory). He was a serious young man and very dedicated
to his job. When we arrived near the Tzavina village, we heard sounds
of singing and dancing. A party was happening in one of the homes. Itzkaleh
looked through a window and realized that that amongst the celebrators
was Pietka Gintov, one of the policemen who was one of the evil and
ugly killers. Itzkaleh came back that this was a good time to pay Pietka
what he deserved. He was ready to go in and do the deed. Yorka was very
much against it since Itzkaleh would be easily recognized and this would
endanger all the Jewish residents of the town. He volunteered to do
it, since no one knew him and the town would not pay for it. So he went
into the house with a drawn gun, and since he didnt know what
Pietka Ginta looked like, he asked, Who here is a policeman?
Someone was able to darken the place immediately. Itzkaleh immediately
ran, trying to ID Pietka in the darkness, but Pietka was able to escape,
as well as well the celebrating people who thought that there was a
big partisan troop that had come there. Itzkaleh was at first very mad
that he was not allowed to do it the way he wished it, but Yorka said
he shouldnt take it so deeply, because even if we didnt
succeed now, we would succeed later, and even if we didnt succeed,
we learned something from it. We could see that the policemen were scared
to death of the partisans, and this was something we should not forget.
Letters and Shrift teller (?) It seems as if the Nazis would choose
Jewish holidays on purpose for their evil deeds. The holy day Purim
was approaching, and the cold was horrible that year, but despite the
fact that we had no more wood to burn in our furnaces, the idea that
the German Army was suffering this cold on the Russian front pleased
us greatly, especially since we found out that there were certain battles
where they were defeated. But then came Purim, and our pleasure in knowing
about the German defeats was eclipsed by our huge tragedy. During that
day, the Germans killed the last of the surviving Jews of Vileyka, and
many of the Jews were brought in for forced labor, amongst them Jews
from Kurenets. The information was brought to us by Zina Bitzon, a woman
who belonged to the partisan group in Volkoviczina. She said they would
bring workers from Kurenets to Vileyka, and she suggested that this
would be a good time for me to be accepted into the printing house in
Vileyka. Soon everyone found out about Vileyka, and the Judenrat told
us that the German authorities demanded certain professional people,
amongst them carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, furriers, metalworkers,
Our family was very worried for the fate of my sisters Henia and Rochaleh,
who worked and lived in Vileyka. We knew that Rohaleh worked for the
Germans in the post office, and Henia worked for the group of painters
by cleaning their rooms and cooking for them. We hoped they had escaped
the killing, but soon we found out that they were both murdered. My
sister Henia who was so close to me, who said she was ready to wash
floors and do everything so I would be able to study and improve my
life, was dead. My sisters Henia and Rohaleh, my beloved sisters, who
in their lives and in their deaths did not separate. How my heart cried
for them. [PUT PICTURES OF ARCZIK? And Henia and Rohaleh?]
My mother, who was heartbroken, begged Doba and I to go to Vileyka and
find a job. I didnt tell my mother or my sister of my plans to
work in the printing press. Many of the Jews of Kurenets came to Vileyka
to be taken to work. Some of them had no profession but hoped they would
be lucky and get accepted there, thinking that might save their lives.
We arrived in Vileyka in the afternoon and we were put in front of the
Gvitz Kommissar Schmdit. Together with him was his assistant Handl,
who said to us, via the interpreter from Kurenets, Schatz (an Austrian
Jew who arrived in Kurenets and was now the head of the Judenrat in
Vileyka), Shoemakers, go to this site. Carpenters to this site.
Tailors to this site
Handl never once mentioned anything about printers. I was very confused
and didnt know what to do. My sister Doba kept nudging me quietly
and said, Why are you standing here and waiting? Go and mingle
with the professionals.
Finally Handl called me and asked what my profession was. I was very
confused and said, Shrifashettler which in German meant,
Author. I thought at that moment this was the right name
for someone who puts together letters in a printing house. The word
Shrifashettler made Handl very mad. He started screaming
at me with disgust, mocking me. Du bist ein shrifashettler? Ah.
Ein shrifshettler bist du? I was sure that my fate was sealed,
but immediately I started correcting myself, explaining that I fixed
letters in a printing place. Handl quieted for a minute and was pensive,
then all of a sudden said, Tomorrow to the printing press.
Thats how it was. The next day I was accepted as a worker in the
The tragedies that befell my family when we found out that Henia and
Rohaleh were killed were unbearable. My father received it as a sign
from the sky, and he cried bitterly before God when he prayed the kaddish
for them. I remember that one day our Christian friend Kostya from Diaditz,
came to us to take part in our mourning. He once again clarified that
he would always help us and his house would be open for us, even if
it would endanger him we would be able to hide there. We gave him some
of our belongings. Clothes and supplies for him to keep. We knew that
he was an honest man who was telling us the truth and that we could
always rely on him. I found out about Kostyas visit when I came
on one Sunday for a vacation. We would work for six days, and on Sundays
we would receive time out to go to Kurenets. We were taken both ways
by policemen. The reason why they wanted us to go to Kurenets was so
we could clean ourselves and change clothes. The Germans wanted to keep
certain hygienic conditions.
My first day of work at the printing press was a difficult day. When
I entered and told that Handl had sent me there, I was greeted by the
manager of the printing house, a Christian by the name of Byelosov.
Other than my friend Josef Norman, there were two other non-Jews who
worked there. One was Nikolai Lazar, and the second was Matvei Matvievich,
who was once a Soviet POW who somehow was able to get a job there. There
were also two Christian girls, Manya and Sonia, who helped with the
printing but who mainly kept the place clean. So as soon as I came there,
Byelosov looked at my boots and said, You have nice boots. It
would be a good idea if you gave me your boots since the Germans will
murder you and take your boots anyway.
I answered, I dont care who will take my boots after I die,
but in my lifetime I will not give them to anyone.
Matvei was a very gentle and spiritual person. You could see it from
his _expression. He thought I was a remnant from the Jews of Vileyka,
who at that point had all been killed, and whispered to me, After
what happened here, why are you sitting here and working for them? Why
arent you escaping to the forest?
When I heard what he said I became worried. Despite his face that appeared
very gentle, those were difficult days and it was hard to know where
troubles might come from. Who knows? Maybe he would spy after me and
trick me, I thought. So I looked at him quietly, as if a person who
didnt understand the hint when he said the forest.
Secretly I told Josef Norman about the plans and why I was sent there.
Josef once again emphasized that it was very dangerous, that they might
notice that letters are missing. As I continued working there I discovered
that Byelosov was not a bad person, he was just a chatterbox and didnt
mean ill. When he asked me for my boots it was just chatter, and it
contained no evil.
Most of the work involved printing announcements, letters, and accounts
of office supplies for the Germans. Most times the letters were in both
Russian and German. The German letters were smaller than the Russian
ones, but since we wanted the printing to be pleasant and not uneven,
we added something to the letters and I became the specialist in this.
I also became more fluent in German during this time. Truthfully, the
other workers in the printing shop did not know any Germans. Often I
was sent to the Gvitz Kommissar to see him and his assistant Handl,
or to Kiborik, who was the education officer, and I became the go-between.
They gave me materials to print and they received the ready materials
Each day when I was done with my work I would go to the ghetto in Vileyka
and stay there until the next morning. It wasnt the usual ghetto,
but this was the place where they kept the Jewish workers. It was located
behind the public park and the municipal hospital, close to the Jewish
slaughterhouse from the years before. The place was not truly guarded.
There was not a fence, and Schatz was responsible for the guarding.
Schatz used to be the head of the Judenrat in Kurenets, and now was
situated here in Vileyka. Also there was my sister Doba, and also Kopel
Spektor with his brother Eliyau, and his two sisters Esther and Dinka.
Kopel was very, very close to his family, and now never separated from
them, and this is how we explained to ourselves his not being so close
to us at this point. Once in a while, Handl, the assistant of the Gvitz
Kommissar would come around and torture whoever he encountered. I also
felt, every once in a while, his beatings with the stick that he always
held in his hand. One time he hit my hand so hard that I thought it
became paralyzed. I feared I would never be able to move it. The people
in the ghetto were tortured not only by the German head officer like
Handl, but by every German. They were all permitted to treat us as they
wished. Zalminka Alperovich, the son of Masseh Alperovich, brother of
Rivka Gilat who is now in Israel, used to work for a German who would
torture him and beat him mercilessly, so much so that we were worried
about his survival. One time he returned to the ghetto all beaten up
and wounded, in horrible shape. But the next morning the German came
to the ghetto and demanded that Zalminka be sent to him, and no one
else. Many tried to explain the horrible situation of the young boy,
but the German just became enraged and said, I will make him well
and he drew out his weapon. So with no choice, Zalminka got out of the
bed and went to work. Who could ever dream that during these days that
this Zalminka who was so tortured would one day escape from the ghetto
and arrive at the forest, and from there go to the Red Army, where he
would get his revenge on the German killers, something I will tell you
about later. Most people in the ghetto of Vileyka suffered greatly.
Other than the people from Kurenets, there were remnants from other
neighboring towns. Many of them were very depressed. I remember our
Motik Alperovich, who was with us. Even when his heart was very bitter,
Motik used three words to describe the situation, Seiz nicht gud
(?) The situation is not good. HE was a member of our partisan group
and there was hope at least that we might leave for the forest.
When I worked next to Matvei, I saw that amongst the many letters he
kept in his drawer were many Red Army buttons with Soviet emblems of
the hammer and sickle. I am sure that he meant for me to see it, but
still I pretended that I was not paying attention. One day, Josef Norman
found in the printing house the original announcement that ordered all
the Jewish men in Vileyka to come for a roll call that ended with all
of them being taken to the bridge and killed. When we looked at the
paper we saw it was signed with the Polish name Sapieska. During the
Polish times, Sapieska was the head of the Vileyka archives, and as
soon as the Germans entered he became the mayor. Josef showed me the
paper and I thought that it might be historically important so I took
it and hid it somewhere. I think that this paper, amongst others, helped
at the time when the Soviets came after the war, during Sapieskas
trial which got him sentenced to ten years in prison.
One time the Gvitz Kommissar came and said we should take some printing
materials off the trucks. When I came to take it down, he said to me,
This is my material, and I am telling you that if there is anything
missing or imperfect, you will pay with your head.
I dont know why Schmidt made me responsible for these materials
that were brought from Oshmany, where they had a printing house that
was now closed. We did as we were told and took all the printing materials
down from the trucks and into the printing house. Amongst the other
things we found a box filled with letters and I immediately realized
I could take from this box without making them suspicious. One day,
Itzkaleh Einbender came to the printing house was not watched and told
me that the partisans from the Volkoviczina group were asking about
the letters since it would soon be time to go to the forest. I said
that probably soon I would be able to bring something. Under the
Nose of the Germans We found out that in the yard of the Gvitz
Kommissar there were many letters for Russian print from an old printing
house that had been used by the local daily paper in Vileyka, Salinskiya
Gazetta, during the Soviet times. Since I would often go to the Gvitz
Kommissar for transferring materials, I decided to make good use of
my visits there. The guard knew me well and didnt bother me. Bertha
met me near the yard of the Gvitz Kommissar and we both entered as if
we didnt know one another. Bertha, who appeared non-Jewish, and
acted in a way that was filled with self-confidence, exuded trust and
the guard didnt even check her. Bertha put a note in my hand and
When I had a chance to look at the note, I realized it was the text
for a flyer, with an instruction that it should be printed very quickly.
I couldnt figure out what Bertha was planning. Did she mean that
I had to now leave for Kurenets and make this with the letters that
I had kept there? Or did she want me to print this pamphlet right here
in Vileyka? At first I considered the possibilities of printing it in
Vileyka, but I couldnt find a way at first. Slowly, I came up
with a plan. I discussed this with Josef Norman and we realized that
going to Kurenets was impossible, so I decided to go to the manager,
Byelosov, and I said to him that I was very worried since I found out
that soon there was going to be an action where they would kill the
Jews in Vileyka. I begged him to let me sleep in the printing house.
Byelosov, who was a devout Christian, had a job as the choirmaster and
a deacon (?) and many times he used the printing press for the Church.
The Germans had no knowledge of what he was doing. Byelosov thought
about it for a second and then said, Well, if you want to sleep
here maybe you can print some things for me. I immediately agreed and
I decided to use this opportunity. I would fix on the same form the
Byelosov job and our pamphlet. When I was finished with it I would separate
Josef Norman also asked to stay in the printing house since he was also
a Jew, so it would seem natural he would want to join me. The young
girls, Manya and Sonia used the printing house as a permanent location
of sleep, and as soon as they fell asleep on some tables, we started
working, right under the Germans noses. First we prepared the
form for Byelosov, and then our pamphlet which was very short. Byelosov
asked me before he left that once I was done with printing I must separate
all the letters so that no one would catch him. So as soon as I was
done with the printing, I immediately separated the letters and started
cutting the papers, separating the ones that belonged to us from the
ones that belonged to the Church. I hid our pamphlets in the print house
and waited impatiently for someone to come and receive the materials.
It wasnt a large amount of material. I somehow was able to inform
Bertha but she must not meet me at the Gvitz Kommissar but to come to
the yard behind the print house and wait there. SO that is what happened.
She came when it got dark and I got her the package.
The relationship between the workers in the printing house was good.
There was a sort of good socializing amongst them. Lazar and the two
young women joined Byelosov in singing often. A very special person
was the POW who I talked about. Once in a while he would still ask me
why I didnt join the partisans and say, What are you doing
here? I am a Russian and its not as dangerous for me to be here.
But you are a Jew. You have no future here.
I could see that he was truly worried about me. Obviously he had no
idea about my connection with the Resistance, so he was pleading with
me, thinking he would save me if he taught me certain things about the
forest. He also taught me how to make fake stamps for IDs and how to
put letters in a round shape. He was a very gentle person. He had some
kind of infection on his hands and he was very careful not to use the
public soap. He would very carefully cut a little piece of the public
soap for himself. Soap was a very precious commodity, and one day, Byelosov
realized that pieces of the soap were cut, and he started yelling, Who
is stealing our soap?
Matvei didnt hide the truth. He admitted that he took some of
the soap and showed Byelosov his hands that had their infections. He
explained doing it fearing that his infection could spread to others.
Byelosov would not accept his explanation. He was very mad and went
to the German who was responsible for us and told him about Matvei stealing
the soap. The German hit Matvei very cruelly. Eventually he was kicked
out of the printing house and sent to Germany.
Now we continued working with Lazar, who I still couldnt figure
out. I wondered if he had anything to do with Matvei getting sent to
Germany. I decided to check out his character. Since he told me that
his brother-in-law was a watchmaker, I asked him to give my watch to
his brother-in-law to get it fixed. Bertha suggested that if he is not
to be trusted and maybe cause us trouble, we should get rid of him.
By getting rid of him she meant killing him. During those days, if someone
was killed all of a sudden, no one would check the reasons. So when
Lazar didnt bring back the watch and days passed, we didnt
know what to do. Lazar promised me that on Sunday when he would be in
the village, he would ask his brother-in-law to hurry up, but his brother-in-law
was very busy.
When he returned on Monday, still the watch was not with him. I said
to him to just give me back the watch, whether it was ready or not.
But he said the watch had been taken apart. When I told about it to
Bertha, I realized it could all end very badly, but lucky enough, just
then, Lazar brought back the watch and he proved he was not a bad man.
So I notified Bertha and I was happy that he was not hurt, since someone
worse could have been sent there.
On Sunday, I decided to make a short pamphlet while I did a general
pamphlet for the Germans. I was sure that on Sunday no German would
come to the print house. I was just about ready to print the pamphlet,
when to my great shock, the Gvitz Kommissar, Schmidt, with another high-ranking
officer, entered the print house. I was shaking and I felt as if I was
standing over a huge chasm. So all I could do was to drop it all of
a sudden, as if I was careless, and that is what I did. The entire form
fell with a loud noise, and the letters spread all over. Schmidt immediately
came to me and hit me for being so careless and said to me, You
must work carefully. Do not do any stahanov (?) here.
I started gathering the letters and mixing them up, especially the letters
from my pamphlet. All of a sudden there was a sound to stop the work.
Now I wasnt worried anymore that they would recognize the letters.
Once again I was hit by the Germans before they left, and they said,
Be more careful. Dont do such a lousy job. Then they
left the printing house.
Those were the days between Purim and Passover, and I Spent almost all
my time in the printing house in Vileyka. I found out that once again,
they killed 32 Jews in Kurenets. This took place on the 6th day of the
Hebrew month of Nisam, 1942. The killers were not Germans, but collaborators
from the local area. One was from Kurenets and the second from the village
Kastzinevitz. This is the information I found from Yehezkel Zimmerman,
the son of Yitzhak Haitzes (son?) Zimmerman.
Yehezkel Zimmerman is now known as Charles Gelman, and he wrote a book
in English about his experiences during the war.
The two Christian hoodlums were policemen for the Germans. They were
Shernagovitz and Balzinyuk. They went as they said to create a Polevanya,
meaning a hunt. One of these killers was a student of Yitzhak Zimmerman
in the public school in 1941, but these so-called privileges did not
help Yitzhak. He was the first to be killed by them. The daughter Ethel
tried to escape but didnt go far. They caught her and killed her.
The second daughter, Minya, was shot while hold her baby in her hands,
a baby just a few months old. She fell in the snow, in a pool of her
blood, and died immediately. The baby, Shimshon, fell on the snow but
was not hurt. Feyga Zimmerman, the mother, saw the whole thing from
the window of their home. She was in shock and practically fainted,
but still she was able, after a short time, to go outside and take the
baby from the snow. But Feyga Zimmerman was not able to stay in the
house. She took the baby to Zalman Mendel Tsipilevich, who was distantly
related to her, and there she stayed with the baby until the day of
the annihilation of Kurenets, 9/9/1942.
I would like to say more about Yitzhak Zimmerman. He was a very learned
Jew with an excellent memory. He was a deep thinker who understood the
depths of ideas, and was very articulate and able to explain everything
to his students in a very clear and simple way. People who knew him
said he was an amazing mathematician, and was also very proficient in
Hebrew grammar. All his knowledge was gained auto-didactically. He didnt
have any formal education. In addition to that, he had the most beautiful
and clear voice, and he was used in the synagogue as a servant of the
public, where he would pass before the Ark.
Yehezkel [Charles Gelman], his son, was at that time in the Vileyka
ghetto with the other Kurenetsers, and knew nothing of what happened
to his family. But people looked at him strangely and he understood
that something happened, so he left Vileyka for Kurenets and found out
the awful tragedy. He met with his mother and his nephew, and together
they went back home to mourn his father and his two sisters. Yehezkel
wrote that the piercing cries of his mother could have made the blocks
of his house melt. During that time he also met with Artzik Dinestein,
who was also known as Artzik Gatzes, and he told him that he,
together with other Jews, went out and collected the bodies of the 32
martyrs and buried them in the Jewish cemetery. Artzik told him that
when they checked the pockets of the people who were killed, they found
in Yitzhak Zimmermans pocket, a detailed list of all the 54 martyrs
who were killed during Simha Torah that year. The list included the
names of the people, their parents names, their ages, etc. Surely,
Ytizhak Zimmerman hoped that there would be a day when the 54 martyrs
would be brought to a Jewish burial and their headstones would be put
on their graves
Leaving for the Forest
Since the beginning of April of 1942, the underground unit from Volkoviczina
urged us to come to the forest and establish a permanent newspaper from
there. Since we had a lot of work in the printing house, and I knew
I was about to leave, I suggested to Byelosov to bring a young woman
from Kurenets who was in the labor camp to help in the printing house.
I gave her a great recommendation, and said that since Matvei left,
someone needed to replace him. The reason why I wanted a Jewish girl
to come there was so she could help Norman and I take letters and also
to keep an eye on the Christian girls while we were printing the pamphlet.
The girl I recommended was Riva, the daughter of Shaptai Gordon. She
was full of energy and self-confidence, and I knew that she would be
very good at the job. But it wasnt enough for her to want to do
it, and for Byelosov to ask for her. We needed permission from the Gvitz
Kommissar. So Riva went to Schatz and asked him to recommend her. Schatz
knew her well because when he came to the area of Kurenets, he lived
in Rivas parents home and liked them a lot. So he went to
do as she wished, and after Schatz pleaded her case to the Gvitz Kommissar,
she got her position. Schatz had no idea we would use her for the resistance.
Riva was very good at her job. She was able to transfer letters to the
yard near the printing house, and Bertha would meet them. Riva would
always sit by the printing press while we were doing pamphlets. She
would clean the area, volunteering so that the Christian girls would
not have to do anything, leaving us to print without worrying about
them seeing anything.
Riva stayed at the printing house after I left the area, and many years
later when I met her, she told me that when they asked why I left, she
told them that it was hard to know and that it must be that I was murdered
when I went to visit Kurenets. She stayed there until October of 1942,
Eventually they organized an escape from the Vileyka ghetto, and the
first to escape was Riva , with a group of ten young men, She was the
At the end of this group was Shimon Zimmerman, later the husband of
Riva, and Yehezkel Zimmerman (Charles Gelman) the son of Itzha Haitzes.
With them was Tevel, the son of Gdaliyahu the blacksmith, and
Lazar Shlomo and others.
At this point I was still printing pamphlets as well as some materials
for the Church. Since the nights were still long in April, I could do
much work, but still I was always tense, despite the fact that the Germans
didnt usually come there at night. One night, after I printed
some things for Byelosov and also short pamphlets for us, one of the
Christian women for some reason started cleaning the printing house.
Once in a while she would come near me so I had no choice but to drop
the form and mix the letters. I had to wait for her to finish and it
took a long time, and then once again I joined the letters and finished
the job. In our part it was mainly favorable news from the front. The
next morning, Bertha came and took all the pamphlets.
Amongst the pamphlets I did in Vileyka, there was one that called for
the residents who worked for the German police to join the fight against
the Nazis. It said that the Germans had lost many battles in the Russian
front. We announced that if they wanted to find the partisans, all they
would have to do was go to the forest with the announcement and a weapon
and they would be accepted by the resistance. We signed this pamphlet
with the words Death to Hitler!
Beautiful spring days came and the snow melted. We could see the days
but since we were indoors we really did not experience them. The non-Jews
in the partisans kept asking us if we had sufficient weapons, papers,
and letters so we could join them in the forest. They were not ready
for all the Jewish members to join them, but they wanted me to come
so I could start printing the newspaper. Since I needed more letters,
I remembered the letters that I saw from the old Soviet print house.
I told Byelosov about it and said we should ask Handl for the letters
since many of our letters were not functional anymore. Byelosov sent
me to Handl to ask for them. I explained to Handl that Byelosov sent
me to collect those letters for our job, and he told me to choose the
letters that were in good shape so I could take them to the print house.
Handl ordered me to weigh what I was going to take so that everything
would be exact, so I sat there for a whole day so I could examine the
letters, and I took a bag of about 30 kg of letters.
When I showed the bag to Handl he forgot about weighing it. I hid them
near the print house and I gave Byelosov only a small package of letters,
saying that most of the others were non-functional. The people from
Volkoviczina came the next day. Yorka Balshov took the letters back
with him to Volkoviczina. The Germans had their eagle symbol on a stamp
and we thought that we could make a stamp from it if we added the appropriate
words in a circle around the eagle. SO I brought the raw material to
Kopel, who was amongst the skilled Jews that the Nazis needed. There
was also a dentist there. Kopel took from him some plaster and he was
able to somehow make a print with the eagle and the appropriate letters.
Now we had an official German stamp that we hoped to use for the resistance.
Since the labor camp was crowded with many Jews, it was impossible to
hide from them such an operation, and someone started yelling that because
of this stamp, everyone would be murdered. But someone else yelled to
him, Tell me, do you really believe that if we didnt have
the stamp they would keep us alive and not kill us?
Kopel Spektor was well respected, even by the Nazis. One time, when
they were repairing a toilet in the German headquarters, the different
technicians were arguing which way the toilet should be prepared. Should
it be the French way where you pull a string? Or the English way where
you press a button/lever for it to flush? Since they all respected his
technical skills, they called Kopel and asked his opinion. Kopel, who
didnt lose his sense of humor said that there was also a Russian
system, in which there was no need at all to flush, since the toilet
is not in the house but the edge of the yard. The Germans loved this
answer and they all laughed, thinking of how backward the Soviets were.
Kopel made them so happy that they gave him cigarettes.
In reality, Kopel Spektor did everything he could to help people who
were going to fight the Germans. He was the head of the committee that
had planned the escape from the camp to the forest. They were an underground
group. One of the other heads of the committee was Jona Riar, from the
town of Ilia. He was able to steal a gun from one of the German gendarmes,
but when he tried the gun it had some kind of defect and Kopel Spektor
was able to fix it in no time at all.
When I think of those days I remember how we all wished to get revenge,
and every little bit of revenge would please us. In Vileyka, there was
the daughter of Doctor Shostakovich from Kurenets. He was born in one
of the villages nearby, and now, since the Germans came, he became their
assistant, and maybe because of his collaborating with the Germans,
his daughter now received an important job as an editor for them. Lazar,
who worked with us, fell in love with that girl, and would often go
to bring the prints we made from the printing house. Despite the fact
that it could endanger us, we were so angry and revengeful that we would
change the letters and make, as if by mistake, errors that would say
something nasty. That would make us feel a little bit better, that we
were able to embarrass her in some way.
At the end of April, I was told that I should go to Volkoviczina to
meet with Ivan. The letters were in his attic, and he asked me to check
what we could do with them. While I was checking the letters and separating
them, the Germans came to the village to get some chickens. I immediately
hid, but I could see the Germans looking. From where I was hiding, I
also saw one of the soldiers making love to a local girl from the village.
At the end, he gave her a loaf of bread as payment, and a big smile
lit up her face. Finally, the soldiers left and I was able to get out
of my hideout and continue with my job. During that meeting, Ivan informed
me that the next morning I had to go to the forest with two other people.
We decided that Zalman Gurevich and Elik (Eliyahu) the son of Ruven
Zishka Alperovich, would join me. Meanwhile, Itzkaleh Einbender went
to Vileyka and spread a rumor that I had been murdered. A decision was
made that if Schatz, the head of the Judenrat, would start investigating,
and Itzkaleh would kill him. My sister, Doba, worked in Vileyka for
the German officer Riddle, putting together clothing for the soldiers,
and also helped them make packages to send home that basically consisted
of pillage from the Jews.
Monday morning, while I walked to Vileyka, together with Itzkaleh, I
transferred my rifle with three bullets to Itzkaleh Einbender so he
could threaten Schatz if needed. Near the village Zimadora, I decided
to leave. I fell off the little bridge, and a policeman who saw me asked
what had happened to me, and I said something was wrong with my shoe,
and that I must fix it. They continued walking and I stayed there as
if fixing my shoes. As soon as I saw them passing, I ran to the forest
nearby, and there I sat the entire day. When night came I went to Volkoviczina,
where I met Yorka Balshov, who told me that Zalman Uri, and Elik are
ready and that we would leave that night.
Weeks later, Itzkaleh told me that Schatz was very helpful and spread
the word that I had been killed, in spite of the fact that he knew I
had really left for the forest. More than that, Schatz said that if
he could only do it he would join the partisans in the forest. Doba
also told me years later that Itzkaleh and Kopel Spektor came to her
and told her not to worry for my escape, and that no one would hurt
her for revenge.
The Dream of the Forest I met with Elik and Zalman Uri as well
as the other partisans. They had the printing press deep in the forest
area. This was the end of winter, the beginning spring. The ground was
wet from the melting snow and the rain that came often. I was very tired
and naively I asked one of the partisans who seemed knowledgeable in
the ways of the forest, where can I lie down to sleep for a bit. A
good question, answered the partisan, mockingly. In the
place where you stand, thats the place where you sleep, either
lying down or standing.
So thats how it was. The place where we stood we would close our
eyes, and since we were so tired, we were able to sleep while standing.
The head of our unit was a person by the name of Andrey Ivanovich Volinitz [INSERT
PICTURE]. He was a very pleasant man from a village near Vileyka.
Zalman Uri Gurevich knew him well. His sister worked for Zalmans
family as a housekeeper before the war. The reason they used a housekeeper
was because Batia Gurevich, Zalmans mother, was sick and needed
help with the house chores.
The place where we rested was in the forest near the village Tsentzevitz,
not far from the ranch of Luban. We had much food supplies. Eggs, potatoes,
The area was one of marshes. At this point they
didnt use us Jews for any missions. We were only used in guard
positions, since they were afraid that since we were Jews, if we were
caught as partisans, the entire Jewish community would pay for it.
The first Sunday we spent in the forest, many of the partisans went
to a dairy near Tsintzevitz to take some food. The guard of the dairy
asked them to beat him up so the Germans would not suspect that he collaborated
with them. They also took a horse and a carriage, and brought with them
some alcohol. When they returned, most of them were drunk and fell asleep
while we were guarding them. This was in the early morning hours, and
all of a sudden I saw a shepherd not far from us. I did not know that
he was the partisans contact. In his hand he held a horn made
of an animals horn. All of a sudden he started making loud sounds
with the horn, and he announced that the Germans were approaching. There
was a big commotion. Everyone ran from the place and the whole camp
spread about. We could hear many shouts of the Germans, and then there
was quiet. We, the three Jews, also ran some distance from the camps,
but when it turned quiet, we returned to the camp in the marsh areas.
We didnt know what to do next since there were a lot of supplies.
Elik decided that he should watch the supplies while the two of us went
looking for the partisans. Elik had a hunting rifle in case people came.
So Zalman and I went to look for the partisans. All of a sudden we heard
an announcement, Comrades, where are our people? It was
Volodia, one of the heads of the partisan unit. While we were talking
we heard heavy fire. People were running all over the forest. In one
place we saw a large group of Germans approaching the area. We saw there
was a large fir tree that was very thick, so we hid in the branches
and very fearfully we waited to see what would happen. The Germans came
very near us and we could hear them talking, saying, There must
be some near here. We must be careful lest they surprise us and attack
Maybe we should bring some dogs with us, said another soldier.
And that was all we heard as they walked farther way.
We sat there on the branches of the fir tree for a long time. It was
mostly quiet but once in a while we could still hear shots. When evening
came we came out of the tree and looked at where we left Elik that morning,
but we didnt see anyone there. We continued towards the road between
Karlietza and Kurenets. All of a sudden we heard dogs barking and Volodia
said that I should go check the place. I went to check but found nothing.
I was very tired and sat for a minute, and somehow I fell asleep. All
of a sudden I woke up and didnt know where I was. I stood and
started looking around, and I saw a shepherd with cows. When he saw
me he became very scared and tried to run. I approached him and told
him not to worry. I asked him where was the village Karlietza. He pointed
to a few homes and said that was it. I sat with him to talk and he told
me in a village named Uzla, the partisans had burned the big mill and
that there were police forces on that bridge, and the guards kept changing.
I was very hungry, and the shepherd took some meat from his bag and
shared it with me. I wanted to give him something in return, but all
I had was a lighter for cigarettes, so I gave that to him as a present,
and then we parted.
The Unit is Spreading I didnt know what to do. I didnt
know where to look for Zalman and Volodia, so I decided to try to get
to Kurenets, and from there I tried to contact them. Carefully I passed
the ranch of Luban where there were still some Jewish workers, but I
didnt enter. I kept walking and got to the village Diyadich around
8 in the morning. There had already been daylight for hours and all
of a sudden I heard the sound of bicycles coming behind me. To my great
shock it was the two evil policemen from Kurenets whom I knew very well.
It was the son of Polevick and the second was Belzinyuk. At first I
wanted to jump to the forest and hide, but it was too late, so I decided
to just act naïve.
Why are you walking around so early in the morning? one
of them asked.
Since I had papers showing I worked at the printing press, I showed
them my permit. They immediately said, If you work in Vileyka
what are you doing here in Luban?
I told them I visited my sister who worked here and decided to sleep
here, and that I was on my way to Vileyka. They asked me if I saw any
partisans in Luban. They seemed to be very busy with their own problems,
and they didnt really pay any attention to me. They were talking
about the partisans who burned some buildings and took cows and other
livestock, and they gave me back my permit and continued on their bicycles
to Kurenets, and I walked behind them. Since I was near the village
Diyadich, I decided to visit my family friends, the family of Kostya,
where we once bought a cow. Now much of our belongings were hidden,
so as soon as the policemen disappeared, I went there. Anyway, as soon
as I arrived in Diyadich, I saw that there were Germans with weapons
shooting towards the forest, so I couldnt continue. I went to
the home of Kostya and Agassia. They were scared to see me and told
them a lie that I was in Luban and told them I had come back and I was
just here to visit them. They told me about partisan activities in the
area, and how the Germans were searching for them. They worried that
the Germans might find me, but still they gave me food. In any
case, I had already prepared a hiding place in my barn, in the hay,
Kostya told me, adding, From that barn there is a secret way to
the forest. So go there and rest. If you will see that the Germans are
coming, run to the other side, to the forest, to live.
I entered the barn and lay down in the hideout. Shortly after, I heard
people talking in German. It was a bunch of soldiers who had come to
get water for their horses from the well in the Yard, but they were
not looking for anyone, and they left. I was so tired that I fell asleep,
then woke up in the afternoon. It was quiet.
When it turned dark, Kostyas wife came in and brought me bread,
honey, butter, and milk. She said this would be a good time for me to
leave since it was dark. Further she said that the Germans might come
again tonight to look for me. Although I promised her to leave when
it would get a little darker, as soon as she left I fell asleep again
and I stayed there until the morning hour. I was very embarrassed that
I didnt do what they wished, so I didnt come to say goodbye.
I came out of the hidden way and continued towards Kurenets. I passed
by the village Litwinki, and arrived to the end of Myadel Street, a
place where we used to call Der Shvashtzapola. The first person who
I encountered was Zinia, a member of the Judenrat. From him I found
out that our Elik Alperovich was killed in the forest, and in Kurenets
it was not a secret, and that everyone knew we had left for the forest.
He further said, You only bring troubles for us. He told
me that the Jews paid a huge sum of money to Silak, a Christian villager,
so he would not tell the Germans that the person who they killed was
a Jew from Kurenets, something that would mean the destruction of the
entire Jewish community. Silak was a forester who was very familiar
with the area. He was a collaborator with the Germans, and he would
guide them in the forests when they would chase the partisans. He was
the person who brought the Germans who chased us, and he witnessed the
killing of Elik. We found out from Silek that Elik fought fearlessly
but the Germans caught him while he was standing guard. They caught
him and interrogated him. It must be that during the interrogation he
decided to scare them, saying that the partisan camp had hundreds of
people with heavy weapons and grenades, and machine guns. We understood
that he did it so the Germans would not continue looking, but organize
themselves, giving the partisans enough time to escape. After the interrogation
they killed Elik. Silek, who witnessed this, was the father of two of
our friends from school. He would often visit the home of Ruven Zishka
Alperovich, the father of Elich, so Silek knew Elich very well. When
he found Elik, he didnt tell the Germans who Elik was, and for
his silence, he received money. He was the very first person to reach
the parents of Elich and tell them of the death of their son.
I left Zinia and arrived at home. Soon after, the mother of Elik came
to our house to ask me more details about the tragedy. Meanwhile, Zalman
returned, and for now our activities ceased.
Whats Ahead? From that point I had to be very careful since
there was a rumor I was killed. I tried not to be seen, but still I
had to meet with people and to decide what would come next. We met again
at Nyomka Shulmans house. To this meeting came Motik Alperovich,
the brother of Elik Although we felt a deep mourning, to the outside
we acted as if we were frozen. All we talked about during the meeting
was what we should do next, and how we should continue, since the short
journey in the forest ended with a question mark. We all came to the
conclusion that there is only one choice for us, and this was to escape
the town and go to the forest. We decided to go to the forest to wait
for information from Volkoviczina at this time.
As far as my family, we realized that the central market where our house
was located was a very dangerous place, so we moved to an empty apartment
in the alley. We kept moving from our new apartment to the old one.
My father particularly liked the apartment since it was next to the
rabbi minyan, where my father often went to pray and to open his bitter
heart to express his distress with passages from Psalms. Father, at
that point, became deeply religious. He said he believed that God decided
everything, that our fate was sealed and there was nothing we could
do about it. I knew that Bertha already left and was in the forest,
and now she didnt come anymore to contact us. So I decided to
go on my own during the night time to Volkoviczina and try to meet with
Ivan find out what we should do. I came to the edge of the village but
I was too fearful to enter. I was hoping to meet with someone, but no
one came around so I returned with empty hands. During those days, I
met with a girl from Dolhinov. Her name was Bushka nee Katzovitz. She
used to visit often in Kurenets since she was a member of the Hashomer
Hatzair and we knew her well. This was the first time since the war
started that I saw her. What are you doing here, I asked her, very surprised.
Bushka told me her torturous story, a story that was very common to
most of us. At that point, most of the Jews of Dolhinov were killed,
but Bushka and her sister Chaia escaped to the forest. However, the
situation was difficult there so she decided to come to Kurenets. I
brought her to my house, and my mother was happy to take her and she
stayed with us for a while. Eventually she went to the Kenanina Camp,
a place where survivors of slaughtered towns were taken for forced labor.
Eventually she escaped and went to Russia. Now she lives in Israel with
her two sisters.
Once again, I went to Volkoviczina, and on the way I met with some members
of our partisan unit who stopped in the village Ivanovitz to meet with
Matyokevitz to get instructions. Matyokevitz volunteered to serve in
the German police as an agent for the resistance. He wanted to find
traitors and to get information about the plans of the Germans. In his
command they attacked a police patrol of the Germans that watched one
of the bridges on the Vilia River. This took place when Matyokevitz
was watching the river. When the partisans arrived at the bridge, they
killed the other guards and burned the bridge and took two machine guns.
After this attack, Matyokevitz had to hide from the Germans who realized
his loyalties and started looking for him. We didnt know about
his involvement in this mission, and we went directly to Ivanovitz village
and to hear information. This was during a late night hour, and when
we entered the village we encountered the wife of Haikovitz, who used
to own the ranch there. It seemed that she stood there on purpose near
the home of Matyokevitz, to warn us since the Germans were watching
the home of the Matyokevitz family, looking for the son they were very
suspicious of. We found out that she had been standing there for many
nights, on guard, to warn anyone who came to the village about the dangerous
situation. I am sure she saved us from sure death. Not only that, she
immediately took us to her home and gave us food and drinks and also
gave cigarettes to the people who smoked. Years later, when the war
ended, and I came to the area, I looked for Mrs. Haikovitz, wanting
to thank her, but I was told she went to Poland. When I was in Poland
I also looked for her but could never find her.
When the Germans realized that Matyokevitz was not to be found, they
imprisoned his father and interrogated him. At the end they hanged him.
Once again we didnt know what we should do. We received no instructions,
and then we received a note. We found out that the Germans didnt
discover the letters that were located near the place where Elich was
killed, and they were now in the possession of the partisans. Once again
I went in the direction of Volkoviczina and met with Bertha. A partisan
that I had never met before, Lomka Verebayov, was with her. He asked
me if I was ready right now to go to the Vostok, meaning to the east
to the area that was still in the hands of the Soviets. I didnt
know what to say. My friends sent me there so I could tell them the
situation. How could I just leave them? Anyway, I didnt like Lonka.
Before I even had time to answer him, he asked, Do you have a
weapon? I was naïve and showed him my gun. He took it from
me and refused to return it. Instead he gave me an old Colt with no
Why arent you returning my gun? I asked him.
He said, Now its my gun.
I felt that Bertha was uneasy with him and a bit scared. Once again
he asked me if I was ready to go to the Vostok. I answered, From
here I cannot go anywhere. I am connected to some comrades and I have
to return and give them a report about our situation. We will all go
together when we are ordered to go.
The place where we met was located near one of the bridges where there
was a train track running between Kurenets and Vileyka. All of a sudden
Lonka said to me, You know, I would like to know if you are at
all suitable to be a partisan. Are you able, for example, to put explosives
under the bridge of this train track and blow up the bridge? You must
understand that only if I watch you can I test whether you are suitable
to be a partisan. I explained to him that up until now I had not blown
up any bridges, but I was sure it was not so complicated if he explained
to me how to do it.
Lonka gave me the explosives he had, and also the fuse that was only
about 30 cm in length. He further explained that 30 cm was sufficient
for only 30 seconds, so I would have a very short time to run from the
place after lighting the fuse.
After you blow up the bridge, you can return to your friends in
Kurenets and wait for our instructions.
There was no constant patrol on the bridge. Only once in a while would
there be a patrol that checked the place, so I took the explosives and
quickly went under the bridge. I did what he told me to do, and as soon
as I realized that the fuse was burning, I started running with all
my might away from the bridge. Those seconds seemed to me to be like
an eternity. I was so nervous. And only when I heard the explosion could
I relax. At the same time, there were other bridges that the partisan
unit blew up. Amongst them the bridge of the train tracks in the direction
of the town Kriviczi.
Dont Be Together I returned to Kurenets feeling both excitement
and some disappointment. I didnt meet with my friends because
I was sure that the Germans would hurt the Jews. I sent my mother to
talk to my friends. I discussed the situation with her and said that
I must part. My mother thought that the fate of the Jews was already
sealed and most likely only very few would be able to save themselves.
In her opinion, the only way that we could survive was if we were far
from one another, because together we would all be worried about one
another and it would hurt our chances. She kept repeating the words,
We shouldnt be together. Maybe if we are separate, someone
might be saved.
I must say here that every time a rumor started that the young people
were escaping to the forest, someone in town would say how this would
cause the killing of the entire Jewish community, since the Germans
would use it as a reason to take revenge on the Jews. So now when my
mother begged me to run away, I reminded her of what her peers said.
She said, Son, you are as experienced as all of us. Do you really
think that the Germans need excuses to murder Jews? Run away, son, dont
listen to all this nonsense.
She told me that even the first time, when we went to the forest, one
of the Judenrat people came to her and said, Dont think
for a minute I dont know about the preparations of your son to
go to the forest. This can cause the entire communitys destruction.
My mother said to him that her son was already an adult who could stand
on his own right, and that he didnt need any permission from her
to do whatever he wanted to do. Further, she said to him,
if you want to hear my opinion on what he is doing, I must tell
you very openly that it is very good that he is doing that, and I so
wish that I could do the same thing.
Despite the fact that she urged me to go, now when it was finally a
reality for her, she was very emotional. Her eyes filled with tears,
but she was very strong in her commitment to walk with me part of the
way. Her mother love was very strong, stronger than any rational thoughts.
So when I left, she walked with me. We walked through Kosita Street.
I was barefoot, holding my boots. It was very warm and pleasant weather,
but when we came near the train tracks, we saw that there was some kind
of commotion by the German army, and soon we heard shooting. The shooting
was not in our direction, but still we decided to return home. When
we entered our home I realized that one of my boots was lost. I decided
to go to my friends and tell them the information since the Germans
seemed to be busy in another area. I was only able to find Nyomka Shulman.
I told him how we needed to leave town immediately. I also told him
about Bertha and the bridge, and I said that we needed to go to the
forest and I asked him to relay my message to other people, and immediately
I went home.
When I entered the house, I saw my mother talking to a young Christian
girl. It turned out to be Zina Bitzon, whom I hadnt met before,
but I knew her name. As soon as I entered, she said the code Hantiev,
which was my fake name. Zina was also a contact with the partisans.
She told me that she had come to take us to the forest and we must leave
immediately. She said that Ivan was also in town and he would take the
weapons that were now located in our second apartment in the alley.
Zina said we must get some food supplies, and clothes, and personal
weapons, and we must leave immediately. Whoever was not notified now
would be sent for at another time. Mother went immediately to Nyomka
and she found out that he had only been able to contact Itzaleh Einbender
so far. Zina was very nervous and impatient. She kept repeating that
time was running out and that we could not wait. She instructed us that
when we walked we should walk some distance away from her, but watching
her all the time. She said that the three of us should not walk together,
but each one separately until we were some distance from town. We should
not take off our yellow stars. When we started walking, I saw at the
corner of Kosita Street and Dolhinov, Perla Einbender, the mother of
Itzkaleh. She knew that her son was leaving for the forest, and she
stood from afar looking at him with a quiet but sad _expression. Who
knows what she was thinking during those moments? Every time when I
remember this occasion of us leaving the town, I remember Perla and
her sad _expression. [Perla, her husband, and their other children all
That was the afternoon hour. We had no time to find our other friends,
so it was only the three of us. I didnt even have time to really
say an appropriate goodbye to my parents since Zina was in such a hurry.
We walked as we were told, watching for Zina. When passed the train
tracks, all of a sudden, Zina disappeared, but we continued towards
the village Kosita. All of a sudden we met with the partisan Lonka Berbayov,
the leader of the unit, and there were 15 people with him.
Its very good that you came, he said, and we joined
his unit. Now he was a little more personal, and continued going on
the edge of the forest. Then Lonka ordered us to enter the forest for
a short rest. Here he showed us a bag filled with the letters and other
printing materials like paper and ink. Here I would like to say that
the Christians had a great respect that in my opinion was a bit overblown,
to the subject of pamphlets. Lonka divided the materials amongst the
different people, and said that as soon as we got to an appropriate
spot for printing, we would print some pamphlets for the local population
so they would feel that the partisans in the area were alive and active. We
Are the Masters here
We continued walking and met with a partisan by the name of Hubjanksi.
I was excited to find out that Hubjanski had found one of the pamphlets
that I had written and that was how he came to be with the partisans.
He used to be a policeman in the German service before joining the partisans.
There was another partisan by the name of Kolbosin, who had a Czechoslovakian
rifle. A short time later we met with Matyokevitz. He had a rifle and
binoculars. They all walked around with their weapons unsealed. We were
not used to that and we saw it as very dangerous. I think that Matyokvetiz
sensed our fears and tried to calm us down. He said, You must
understand that here we are the masters and the Germans are the ones
who are scared of us here.
When we arrived at a bathhouse near a village, Lomka said that this
would be an appropriate place to prepare a pamphlet, so we wrote something
in the standard wording. Dont Give the Horrible Anything!
Help the Partisans and Join the Ranks. Death to the Nazis We also
wrote some news from the front, some of it true, others made up. We
also announced that we were the partisans who had blown up the bridges.
Shortly the pamphlet was ready. Sun set and night came, and now we entered
the village. This was an out of the way village far from any road, and
the partisans had a party where they had evetzerinka and handed out
pamphlets. Everyone was singing and dancing, and Lonka made a speech
where he called on all the young people to join the ranks of the fighters.
We, the Jews, did not enter the houses, worrying that someone would
recognize us and inform the Germans, leading them to take revenge on
our families and the Jews of Kurenets. The party continued until 11
in the evening, and then we continued on our way. The village was near
the river Vilia. Before we left, we took a lamb from one of the yards.
Some of the people were already across the river, and others were still
on the other side, when all of a sudden, shots were fired. Kolbosin,
who walked next to me, was wounded. His rifle was also shattered and
became dysfunctional, so he threw it. HE was wounded both in his hand
and stomach, and he started running to the river. I entered with him,
helping him. His condition became more grave. Nyomka and Itzkaleh were
already on the other side of the river, where together with the other
partisans they started shooting back to cover us, which helped us get
across. Kolbosins predicament was dour and he begged us to kill
him. Kill me. Why do I need such torture? Just kill me and end
it all, he kept begging.
I tore my shirt and a piece from someone else shirt and made bandages.
I covered his wounds and took care of him. He kept begging us to end
his life, saying that if the Germans caught him alive they would torture
him so badly and he didnt want to experience it. Lomka made a
decision that two would stay with Kolbosin and the rest would go east,
and thats what we did.
Once in a while new fighters would join us. It went on like this for
days. Wed enter new villages and take food. Hudjanski was originally
a native of Tservitz, a little village near Katzinovitz. Tservitz was
really just a ranch that belonged to his uncle. Lomka decided to reach
Katzinovitz first since Hudjanski said he had some weapons hidden in
Tservitz, enough weapons for all of us. We didnt go the usual
way from Kurenets to Katzinovitz, meaning west to east, but we went
in a roundabout way that took much longer.
Hudjanski who knew the area served as our guide, and he told us that
right after the first World War when the area was near the Russian-Polish
border, his uncle was a smuggler who knew the area very well. When we
arrived at Tservitz, the uncle became our guide, and when we got to
a certain bridge, someone opened fire on us. It turned out to be Polish
residents of the area. One of them got up and yelled, Why are
you shooting and who are you shooting?
But he was killed as he was saying it. Once again they returned fire
and Hudjanskis uncle was mortally wounded, so now we were without
a guide. We walked around the town of Dolhinov, which at that point
was without any of its Jews. All had been annihilated.
We rested nearby and then left in the direction of Pleshensitz. Once
again, we made some pamphlets, and once again new fighters joined us
and eventually we were joined by Bertha. At that point, one of the officers
decided that Nyomka, Itzaleh, and some other fighters and I should go
to the area of Borisov near the marshes where the partisan brigade Dyadia
Vasya was situated. Dyadia Vasya was named for the head of that brigade,
Vasya Narinaski. This brigade contained two battalions, one named Revenge
and the other The Battle. We walked for three days until
we came to the brigade that was in the midst of the marsh areas. Vasya
himself was the first to welcome us. His first question was whether
the printing press was functional and if we could start with the job.
Once again I saw how important it seemed to them to print. I answered
I could start right now.
They sent us to rest and to get acquainted with the new place. There
were thousands of partisans in this area, and they were of different
ranks of leaders. They also had a hospital with many doctors. Here we
met with a native of our town, Ita Gilberstein, who was renowned as
a brave fighter. [She was later killed. Her sister survived and she
is in Israel.]
The partisans lived in huts made from tree branches. They also had tents
and many zimlankas built in the ground.
[PICTURE of ZIMLANKA].
It was a big settlement in the middle of the forest.
I showed the commander samples of my pamphlets and he was very complimentary.
He asked us information about how long it would take, and what sort
of productivity we could maintain. I told him that we could make thousands
of pamphlets a day, even in such primitive conditions. That made him
On the way to the Vostok We found out that in this camp there was
a unit of 18 people that were also making pamphlets, but they had very
low productivity. With their supplies it took a long time. I met with
one of those people who turned to be an old Jew. It seems that our coming
to the place made them upset. They saw us as competitors and decided
to give us trouble. We didnt suspect anything. We were very encouraged
by the warm welcome from the head of the brigade. My letters were all
in the packets of special material that my mother made for me, and I
hung them nearby in the place we slept. When I woke up in the morning
and looked for the letters, my eyes darkened. The packet was torn and
many of the letters disappeared. We only had a few letters left and
we didnt have the entire alphabet, so now when the commander asked
me to start with the pamphlets I was in a very embarrassing situation.
I didnt tell him the whole truth, but I said that I had lost many
of the letters and I was not able to do anything at the moment. He didnt
make any investigation. He said that we could join the fighter group
that did the usual type of job: guarding, blockades, and others. I received
a rifle where you had to load each bullet separately. Itzkaleh and Nyomka
also received such weapons. I remember a conversation I had at that
point while I was sitting next to a small bonfire that I started. An
officer came near me. He was friendly to the Jews. He sat next to me
and asked, Why are the Jews going like lambs to the slaughter?
It didnt seem that he wanted to mock us, he just wanted to understand.
He said that he had seen where a hundred Jews were taken to be killed
by ten Germans, and not even one of the Jews tried to hurt the killers.
Not only that, not even one of them was crying or begging. Like lambs
to the slaughter.
I said to the officer that I could answer him if I could also ask him
a few questions. Look at those hundred Jews that are taken by
ten Germans. More than half are women and children, and many of the
others are old and sick. It could be that some men could have fought,
but they do not because they dont have weapons and because of
a collective reason. They think that every such thing would cause the
killing of thousands of Jews as revenge by the Germans, and there is
no weakness in the fact that they are not crying or begging. I see strength
I told him about the resistance by Arke Alperovich, who hit the policeman
who took him and was able to take a rifle from one of them. I described
this in the first chapter of this book. Now I wanted to ask him questions.
How could he explain that a few Germans were able to take thousands
of POWs through a very long road? These POWs were soldiers in the Red
Army. They watched as the Germans would kill anyone that was not able
to walk. All of these people were men who knew how to use weapons, yet
no one seemed to be fighting, and very few were trying to escape. And
they were in a friendly area, where most of the population was Belarussian.
He didnt really have an answer to what I said, and he accepted
Shortly after, we were called to the head of the brigade and he told
us that we were going to join a group going east, past the front lines,
near Witbesk. There we would go to the other side, to the east, where
we would receive real weapons and also printing materials. On the way
there, he said that we would encounter many wounded people and refugees
and we should help them as much as we could. So we left, along with
other Jews like the Meyerson brothers from Dolhinov, the Schuster brothers,
one whose last name was Kremer, a man named Bakshatz, and some non-Jewish
partisans. On the way east I met with the mother of Bushka Katzovitz
from Dolhinov, who I encountered in Kurenets. Her name is Chana nee
Gitlitz Katzovitz Forman. She was there with her youngest daughter,
Sarah nee Forman, who was about ten years old. She was wounded during
their escape. There was a bullet in her right cheek. Earlier I dreamed
of being a doctor, and now I tried to take care of her as much as I
The leader that guided us was Captain Latishov. We kept transferring
from one unit to the next. Itzkaleh befriended a Russian partisan and
they became like brothers, and his connection with Nyomka and I suffered.
Itzkaleh was blond and didnt look Jewish. His personality was
not typically Jewish either, but he was a very decent and honest person
and was extremely courageous. Nyomka and I kept our friendship. Nyomka
was in very bad condition and needed assistance, though spiritually
he was very strong, physically he had many problems. He had eczema that
spread through his entire body. Also his boots were too tight, and since
we walked so much his feet were filled with blisters and cuts. We traveled
about a thousand kilometers, most of it by foot. Once in a while I changed
boots with him, since mine were a little bit bigger. This was the month
of October 1942. We knew nothing of what occurred in Kurenets. It took
many months to find out that in September 9, three days before Rosh
Hashanah, our dear family members were killed, and most of the community
in Kurenets was annihilated. It started getting cold and it was raining,
but there was no snow. We kept walking towards the front. Itzkaleh seemed
to me to lose all respect for the paperwork, as he called our pamphlets.
Ever since the other Jewish unit sabotaged us, he only wanted to fight
with weapons. Although I loved Itzkaleh, who was my childhood friend,
I didnt think like him.
The front was near a town by the name of Vilich, which was located close
to a big lake in the area of Smolensk-Witbesk. We hardly had food and
many could not take the walk. All the areas where we walked were under
German occupation but partisan groups informally controlled the forest
and the marshes. Once in a while we would hear shots, but we never knew
where they came from. Amongst us was a group of refugees, women and
children that walked with the fighters.
Despite the fact that I kept busy with combat operations, I saw a very
important part of the war effort in propaganda. I aimed to go past the
front where I could find an appropriate printing press, and then return
to the partisan area, and not just to any partisan area, but back to
Vileyka and Kurenets. We arrived to a place where there was a German
blockade the night before, where the entire group that tried to pass
was killed. We met with a few people from the brigade Ditzkova, and
they suggested that whoever wanted to join them could receive real weapons
and they dont have to pass the front. They didnt want to
take any women, children, or wounded, but they wanted to take us. I
didnt want to join this new brigade. I felt I could have stayed
with Dydia Vasya, so I was determined to go back to Kurenets and I didnt
need a new brigade. Nyomka and Itzkaleh shared this opinion, that we
should return to Kurenets and Vileyka, but other fighters joined the
new brigade. They gave us a rest for a few days while deciding what
to do. All of a sudden, during night hours, they ordered us to go to
the front. We went with women and children in the dark. Then there was
gunfire, not directed exactly at us. For a few minutes there was panic
but shortly the situation improved. One Jewish child whose family escaped
Myadel started crying, and a partisan was ready to kill him to quiet
him down, but somehow the child quieted down and we started running.
Each one held a child and we ran fast through the area that was filled
with bunkers of the German Army. We succeeded in crossing the dangerous
area peacefully. I think the success was due to the dark night, which
had no moon. Our group consisted of fifty people, among us there were
Jews from Dolhinov and Myadel, also some non-Jews from other places.
There was even a non-Jew from Crimea, which was very far from this area.
Even when we succeeded in getting to the eastern part of the front,
controlled by the Soviets, we still carried the wounded, the sick, and
the children. But the farther we went from the front, we encountered
Soviet citizens and they were really concerned about the state of the
wounded and they helped us. As soon as we encountered Soviet officials,
they stopped us and decided where each one of us should go. They separated
us into people who could help in the fight, and others who would be
sent farther into the country. Since we were sent to the headquarters
to fight, we didnt know the fate of the other people, the women,
children, and wounded who came with us. Upon arriving at the deployment
base, they decided who would go back to the front and who would go for
more training. The Demolition School
Nyomka and Itzkaleh were sent to demolition school and I was ordered
to wait. All of a sudden they started investigating me and the others
who were not sent yet, and they asked us if we knew the partisan Walter
Hans, who had been with us through our wandering. I knew him, and he
was known among us as a dedicated and brave fighter who was always volunteering
for dangerous missions. I looked up to him and I even admired him. Walter
told us he was a Jew and a native of Germany, and he had suffered greatly
at the Nazis hands, and that it was time to repay them. He spoke
perfect German and he also spoke Russian very well, but he didnt
speak any Yiddish. Still, it seemed natural to us and it didnt
surprise us. Walter joined the Ditzkova Brigade and as a member of that
group he came with us to the front, to help bring the women and children
across. When Walter returned to the Ditzkova Brigade from the mission,
a Russian partisan saw him. This Russian had been a prisoner in Kovno
and recognized him as a member of the Gestapo in Kovno. The partisan
immediately informed the headquarters. Further, he said that he was
taken to be killed together with a friend by this Walter, who was a
Gestapo member, and the friend was executed, but he was able to escape.
Upon hearing this testimony, they arrested him and began investigating.
They learned that Walter was a fifth column planted in the brigade.
He was supposed to pass the front and arrive in Moscow, where he was
to spy and make contact with other German spies. I dont know all
the details, but I know that Walter was executed.
Like I said before, like many others I admired Walter for his dedication
and bravery, and I truly believed he was a Jew. Since I could prove
myself with all the flyers that I had kept from the different missions,
they accepted the fact that I really was not involved with him and they
told me the details of Walter' crimes.
Meanwhile, Nyomka and Itzkaleh were sent to Haburtshuka in the region
of Smolensk for demolition school. Once I was cleared of any connection
with Walter, I was sent to the school too. I was told that I should
learn more about demolition and as soon as they could organize a printing
house, they would send me there to run it.
When I left the area they gave me food sufficient for one week. Bread,
a little bit of butter, flour, sugar, tea, and a few eggs. When I arrived
at the school I didnt let them know I had food, so here I received
food for another week.
When I arrived there, I joined Nyomka and Itzkaleh and seven other guys
from Dolhinov, and the food was used by all of us. This was in December
of 1942. The weather was pretty cold and windy. We would train in the
snow with all sorts of weapons that the Soviets supplied. Some were
German weapons that had fallen into Soviet hands. We were taught how
to use explosives, how to lay mines and how to disarm them; it was very
serious training and every day we would train for more than ten hours.
Itzkaleh and I were excellent target shooters. Nyomka did everything
in a very dedicated way and with deep devotion, but his physical situation
was very bad. He had eczema on his entire body, and it bothered him
We were not only busy with training. Amongst the ten of us, the ten
Jewish guys, there were especially strong ties since our conditions
were pretty difficult. Each one of us carried a wooden spoon inside
of our boots, and during the meals, we would take our spoon out of the
boot and put it in the common soup that was given to us. The soup contained
mainly water and a very small amount of meat and potatoes.
Since I was very depressed because of the incident with Walter, I hardly
tried to get any food. I would just get some liquid and the guys would
make fun of me, saying, Tomorrow we will make zatzirka, so you
will have no choice but to have something to eat. (Zatzirka is
a soup made out of flour.) Many times we would talk about our friends
from Kurenets and Vileyka. To make us feel better, we would mention
how Motik would say during the hard days in the ghetto in Vileyka, Hever,
seiz nit gud (Things are not good). So whenever someone would
complain about the bad conditions, we would say, What is new?
Our Motik said the same thing a year ago.
We found out that the main headquarters was planning on organizing a
new partisan brigade to be sent near Molodetszno, which was near where
we came from. They planned on taking about 100 people trained here,
and the rest they were hoping to use local people from the villages
in the area. We decided to ask the headquarters to let us join that
brigade. AT first, Itzkaleh said that there was something un-kosher
about a true fighter asking to be sent to the area he came from, thinking
that a true fighter should go where ever he was told, without sentiment.
But eventually he joined us and asked to be sent to the area where he
had originally come from. We came to the headquarters and explained
how we knew a lot of information about the area and that we could be
helpful. Despite that, it seemed we left very little impression on the
guy who was assigning troops. He said we must finish our training in
demolition, and then they would send us out somewhere. So we returned
to our training.
Nyomka, whose situation became worse, could now not tie his ammunition
to his waist since the eczema was now very bad. He was told to go to
the hospital, but he refused and stayed. Itzkaleh was filled with a
desire for revenge, and he could only truly feel he got his revenge
with weapons. It seemed he was ashamed that much of the resistance he
participated in so far was a paper resistance as he called the type
of missions we had (printing pamphlets). The entire group of ten Jewish
fighters that I belonged to was excellent in its abilities, but shortly
after we asked to be sent to Molodetszno, I was called to the headquarters
and was told that I must go to another assignment. They didnt
tell me where I was going. I was given new weapons and said goodbye
to Nyomka and Itzkaleh. I climbed on a big truck that was ready to go,
and I went far, far away.
[Put Picture of the Partisans in the forest between Poloczek and Lapel;
sitting from right to left: Shimon Alperovich (son of Zishka from Kurenets),
Zeev Kalminsky from Dniepetrovsk.
Standing R to L: Unknown, Dina Makarov from Asuatz, Rachel Dinestein
from Kurenets, a guy from Smorgon, Dr. Meir Shirinsky from Kurenets,
unknown, Yente Dinestein from Kurenets.]
From Place to Place
Together with two other guys, we traveled for many hours in a truck
filled with papers. We went through marsh areas, and the roads were
very difficult. When we couldnt cross the wetlands, we would cut
woods from the forest and we would lay them on top of the water, and
thats how we passed. Though it was winter, the land was wet and
not frozen, so many times, the truck got stuck. Finally we arrived at
a village and here I found out they were making a mobile printing house
in the front. IT was the kind of printing house that was always ready
to be transferred. Everything was put in trunks, some were closed and
some were open. There was a printing press, letters, and everything
else that was needed. There was also a permanent house that stored different
Before the war, this was where the Army printed the newspaper of Witbesk
by the name of Witbesky Rabutzi. There was also, on the others side
of the front, a Germans paper by the same name giving the Nazi version
of the news. The town of Witbesk itself was occupied by the German army,
and many times they would shell the area where we were located, so once
in a while we would change our location There was a member of the staff
of the newspaper by the name Shikarda, with his driver, Schmidt, both
of them were of German descent and they were Volga people. They were
very loyal to the Soviet authorities and were treated with respect and
trust. One night when the shots came very near our area, we were ordered
to leave immediately and the trucks were ready to go. When we arrived
at a bridge on top of a river, it seemed as if the bridge would not
withstand the weight of the trucks, and there was an order to burn the
trucks so they would not fall into enemy hands, and the order was sent
out to continue on foot. But Schmidt was stubborn and said we should
attempt to transfer the trucks. A miracle occurred and the trucks drove
over, and the bridge did not collapse. This brave act by Schmidt became
known and he received a lot of praise. At the end we found out that
the people who shot at us were only drunken German police.
It was January of 1943. After driving from one place to another we were
now at the front. One day I was working at the newspaper and then I
was told that someone was waiting for me outside and asked to see me.
When I went out my eyes filled with tears. Itzkaleh was standing outside.
With excitement he told me that he was sent to SpetzGrupa which was
an elite demolition unit. We met for a short time. We talked about Kurenets,
whose fate we still did not know. We so wanted to go back there and
fight for the area. We parted with hugs and kisses and promised each
other that whoever arrived in the area of Kurenets first would help
the members of the family of the other as much as he could.
We felt, at that moment, that Witbesk was foreign to us, and our ties
to Kurenets were very strong. We had deep feelings for every piece of
land, every road and forest that were known to us in our home town.
The places that made us want to fight, this was our last meeting. We
never saw each other again. This meeting made me feel very lonely, and
once again I came to the officer above me and asked to go back to the
area where I had come from and where I could e used in a better way.
But once again I was told that we couldnt choose where to fight,
we had to fight wherever we were ordered to.
After the First Mistake
A short time after I parted from Itzkaleh, I encountered three very
young guys from Kurenets. One of them was Nyomka, son of Berlman the
barber, second was Yakov, son of Chaim Zalman Gurevich, and the third
was Shmuel Alperovich, the son of Orchik and the brother of Nyomkaleh,
who I described earlier in the chapter about the 54.
They told me of the annihilation of our holy community, three days before
Rosh Hashanah, on 9/9/19422. From them I also found out that of all
my family members, only my sister Dova survived and she was now in the
forest. The news hit me very hard. I was extremely depressed and lonely
and couldnt find any rest. One night I took my weapon and left.
Not really knowing where I would be going. I kept walking, but at one
place I encountered the police and they forced me to return. In spite
of my desertion, the head of the newspaper understood the reasons for
it. He realized my bad emotional situation and gave me a few days of
rest. Slowly I returned to work, and eventually things became better.
Since a girl by the name of Yadviga, who was very professional, decided
to quit her job, she taught me how to organize a page on the printing
press, and soon I became responsible for designing the layout of the
We kept moving around the areas of the front, near the towns of Witbesk
and Smolensk. I remember that one time we were told that half an hour
from where we were located, they were showing the movie, A Ray
in the Clouds by Vanda Vasilavska. I walked by myself the many
roads until I arrived. Not many people came to see the movie, and the
audience also had to run the movie, changing the reels every few minutes.
Despite the fact I was very tired, the movie affected me strongly. It
wasnt the plot itself, I was too sleepy to really follow it, but
the fact that there were still movies in the world and they were being
watched, gave me hope of better days to come.
At that time I met a young man named Marek Shapira. He was from the
town of Hormel. Even before the war his life was very difficult. HE
was practically on the verge of joining the criminal underworld. Now
he worked for us, he was a good-looking man filled with energy. He could
sing and dance and was very generous. I greatly liked him. At one time,
he was responsible for putting letters in the press. He once put a speech
by Stalin and he missed some words. The head of the newspaper accused
him of doing this on purpose, but Marek said that these words didnt
appear in the handwritten version. Marek was fired and I tried very
hard to help him. I shared my food with him. He was for a while accepted
again for work, but finally was fired
Letters The newspaper
once in a while received permission to use a plane to send materials
and supplies to the partisans past the front. There was even some postal
service. The person who made the order to use a plane for postal purposes
was Stulov, a high-ranking officer in the Red Army who was secretary
of the party in Witbesk and was also responsible for the printed materials.
On those planes they would also fly doctors, so they could take care
of the wounded and sick people in the front. I decided to use this service,
since as a worker for the newspaper I had easier access to it.
One time I found out that Dr. Shirinsky from Kurenets, the one who some
years before had given me the special permit to take the test so I could
skip some grades, was now a member of the partisan brigade Otkina Atriad
Nikolayeva. [translator: I talked to this Dr. Shirinskys grandson
in Germany. The grandson of Dr. Shirinsky and Rachel nee Dinestein,
we will look for the grandsons name.] So I decided to send a letter
to Dr. Shirinsky. Together with the letter I sent him blank paper, which
was very precious in those days. This paper could be sued for many purposes.
It could be used to roll cigarettes and it could be exchanged for other
things. To explain to you the value of paper in those times of the war,
in the schools in Russia at the time, the students would use newspapers
to do their homework.
Sadly I didnt receive any answer from Shirinsky, despite sending
many letters. But one day I received a letter from my childhood friend
Motik, the son of Ruven Zishka and the brother of Elik. As it turned
out, Motik was in the same brigade as Shirinsky. The letter made me
so excited and was so dear to me that I constantly read it until I knew
it by heart. And here I am reciting the translated letter:
Hello to you, my comrade in the fight, Nachum. In spite of the fact
that you never, ever in any of your letters wrote to me, your friend,
Motik Alperovich, I cant resist writing a few words to you. I
assume you dont know that I exist here. I have some sad news.
I found out that our friend Noah Dinestein fell in the battle. It was
about two months after my brother Eliyau was killed. Also, our contact
with the partisans, Bertha Dinestein from Kalafi, was killed, and Nyomka
was killed after he put explosives on a German train. That is about
it, as far as our friends. Here with me is Shimon Alperovich, son of
Zishka, as is Shirinsky. I am in good condition and am now a soldier,
but I still miss very much the old days that will never return.
Do you remember our old friendship? In life you encounter situations
and conditions you never anticipated. We used to be so naïve. Nachum,
it could be that I will not be lucky to return to Kurenets, but maybe
you will be lucky and return there. DO not forget to get revenge for
all that was done to us. One day you will meet my cousins Eshka and
Bushka nee Kremer, please help them as much as you can.
I spilled more than one tear reading that letter and kept it as a very
In 1960, in Warsaw on the way to Israel, I visited the Israeli consulate
there and showed the letter to the secretary of the consul. He said
that he wanted to show it to a relative of his who was a writer. He
promised to return the letter to me, but until today, the letter has
not been returned to me.
Anyway, back to 1944. I responded to Motiks letter and I even
sent more letters to him, but I never received an answer. Many years
later, when I came to Israel and met with Avraham Aharon Alperovich
who was with Motik in the forest I found out why Motik didnt answer
any of my other letters. Avraham Aharon Alperovichs story was
recorded in Megilat Kurenets. He told me of the condition of the partisans
around Polacheck during the retreat of the Germans. At that point the
Germans objective was to clear the forest. That was the only mission
at that point that they were able to do well at. In three rings they
tightened up the area. The first ring contained Belarussian and Ukrainian
soldiers fighting for the Germans, the second was Polish and Latvians,
and the third was German. Thousands of partisans were killed during
that blockade, amongst them several from Kurenets who fell in battles.
Avraham Aharon Alperovich said he encountered Motik during battle and
he was gravely wounded in his two legs. HE told me that Motik was beloved
by everyone, and they refused to leave him there. They wanted to do
everything to save him but he begged them and demanded he should be
left. I am already lost, he told them. After throwing all
his grenades at the Germans, he used his last grenade to kill himself.
I cried when I heard the story of my childhood friend and member of
our resistance unit, Motik. Avraham Aharon also told me about Zalminka
Alperovich, the son of Moshe the brother of Rivka, whose torture in
the Vileyka Ghetto I told you about. He was able to get out of the ghetto
and escape to the forest. He was beloved by the partisans. In the brigade
where he was a member he became the contact person. When he met with
Avraham Aharon suggested his transfer to his brigade with the other
Jews from Kurenets so they could all be together But then the head of
Zaminkas brigade heard this suggestion he said she could not let
go of Zalminka. He said, You will see him after the war.
Still there were some battles where they fought together, side by side.
In one of those battles, the partisans were surrounded by German tanks,
and Zalminka would constantly run in front of the German tanks to throw
grenades at them, but you couldnt stop him. At the end of the
war, when Avraham Aharon lived in Kriviczi, he received a letter from
the Soviets thinking that he was a relative of Zalminkas. In the
letter they wrote glorious words about the bravery of the boy Zalman
Alperovich, who couldnt be drafted in the Red Army, but he volunteered
because he so wished to get revenge on the enemy of his people. He fell
in battle in Prussia as a hero of the Soviet Union and after his death
he received two of the highest awards of the Red Army, and the bravery
of this young man should be an example of the greatness of serving in
the Red Army.
With regards to the death of Bertha, I heard a rumor that Lonka Verbayov
murdered her. During a battle between the partisans and the German Army,
Lonka was number one and Bertha was the number two shooter. At one time
during that battle, all the bullets of Lonka were done and he decided
to leave the place during the battle, despite the fact that Bertha could
supply him with more bullets. But Bertha pointed her gun at him and
forced him to stay in the battle. People say he never forgave her for
that, and at the first opportunity, he killed her. Further, people said
that Volinitiz, who greatly respected Bertha, later killed Lonka. I
dont know, however, if these are just rumors or are true facts.
As the war ended, there were a few places in the Soviet Union where
they made committees to look for friends and relatives. Also the Red
Cross took part in such actions. I sent many letters to such committees
to ask what had happened to the remnants from Kurenets, Vileyka, and
Dolhinov. From one of the committees I received an answer that Meir
Meckler from Kurenets, who left Kurenets together with me on the day
the Germans started the war with Russia. I met him in Ratzke after escaping.
I quickly sent a letter to him, and he told me he was in the area of
Gorky where he worked at a tractor factory. HE also sent me addresses
of others from our town how had survived. HE also asked for information
on every other surviving Jew from the area.
Although at this point the Germans were retreating, I was wounded during
a shelling. I was hospitalized and near me was a Russian soldier who
was badly wounded but who had a clear memory still. We started talking
and he asked if I had relatives in Gorky. He said that he had received
communication from a woman who worked with him and he said her name
was Alperovich. MY parents had told me we had relatives in Gorky [the
relatives in Gorky were a brother of his father by the name Itzhak Salomon
Alperovich, who had two daughters. Anyway, this man said that the name
of the girl he knew was Mira Alperovich and he gave me her address.
After a short time I received a letter from her saying, Dear Partisan,
I tried to find the roots of my family. At this time I could not find
links to your family, though I may be your relative even if there is
no clear connection. She added a small package to the letter with
I was very surprised to receive the package, unopened, because supplies
were so limited at the time that I expected someone would have stolen
the food. Anyway, I kept in touch with Mira, and after the war I visited
Gorky, where I found the brother of my mother from the Castrol family.
He was by then an old Jew, 70 years old. I also met with Mira during
In June of 1944, the Soviets started an attack in the front in Witbesk.
The area fell into Soviet hands, and the Red Army kept pushing west.
During those days, the Katyushas became very famous. They were a new
Soviet weapon, and they might be the reason that the Germans lost so
rapidly. Everyone would talk about the miracle Katyushas that were standing
at the top of the trucks, facing the front, and would shoot twelve rockets
from twelve different tubes at one shot. So these Katyushas hit the
Nazis hard, and one town after another was freed. Amongst them Kurenets.
At that point we were already in the city of Witbesk, with all the printing
press. There were two rivers that meet in Witbesk, the Dvina that the
town Dvinsk is named for, and the Vesiba. The town was empty of people
when we arrived, and it was burning. The Germans blew up all the bridges
when they retreated. Many of the residents of the town who didnt
escape east and stayed in town were collaborators with the Germans,
so now they retreated together with the German Army. As soon as we arrived,
I Was sent to check the printing presses that the Germans had used before.
I found that the Germans had destroyed most of them before leaving,
but I Found lots of supplies that I transferred. I was also told to
look for workers, and at that point they didnt care if the workers
were collaborators, and I was told that right now we needed to use them
and we could worry about punishment later on.
I was able to find a very experienced man named Sazunov. He was very
excited to meet a Jew. HE kept telling me of how thousands of Jews were
annihilated in Dvinsk and Witbesk. He said he would see the Germans
take them in boats to the deepest place in the river, and there they
would either blow up the boat or capsize it. Whoever tried to save himself
was shot. There was another worker taken there who would get very made
upon hearing these stories, saying, Why are you only talking about
Jews who were killed? There are plenty of Russians who were killed.
It greatly irritated me to listen to this worker, and I said, There
is a big difference between me, a Jew, and your, a Russian. I am sure
that when you saw a Jew being killed you helped the killers. But when
I saw Russians being hurt I aided them as much as I could.
Although the man was corrupt, he was very good technically, and for
a while we used him, but finally he was sent away and we received someone
There were many supplies left by the Germans in different places, but
they put mines all around the supplies. But since I was trained to disarm
mines, I was able to get the supplies.
To Kurenets The authorities suggested that I should be the
head of the police in the area since the situation in the area was anarchic.
But I didnt agree and asked to be released from my job so I could
go to Kurenets. I knew that when I arrived in Kurenets I would not find
any Jews, but each person from my town that survived became very dear
to me. Not far from where I was, I found a girl from Kurenets Merka
Zimmerman, who had written me a letter asking for help, and since I
in a financially good situation, I helped her. Near the printing press
was a hospital, and there I met a Jewish doctor who was the head of
the hospital. He was married to a female doctor. They had no children
and we all became very close.
There was no electricity at the time. During the night hours we used
a generator to provide power for the printing press. I let the doctor
use the generator during the daytime to provide electricity for the
hospital, and that is how we became close. Since the doctor and his
wife had no children, and they knew my parents were killed, they asked
to adopt me. But despite the fact that I really liked them, I couldnt
do it. I told them that the war was not over yet, and besides our friendship
was more important than such a formal act.
At that time, I found out that Josef Norman, my friend from the printing
house in Vileyka, had survived. I received a letter from him and we
started a regular exchange of letters and we tried to arrange a meeting
in Vileyka. I worked for the Witbeski Rabutzi, but there was another
newspaper that was printed in Witbesk, by the Army, and we kept in great
contact with the other press and we helped each other. This was in September
of 1944, and I found out that a truck from their newspaper was going
to the town of Polaczek. I asked for permission to go with them, and
I received a few days vacation. I left Witbesk with a heart full
of fear for what I would encounter. The truck that took me was filled
with paper and the roads were very damaged by the war, and in one place
we had an accident. I remember telling the people who were in the truck
with me and said, We went through this whole war and survived,
and now well get killed in a truck carrying paper?
But we survived and arrived I n Polaczek, and from there I found out
in the main station of the town that there was a train going to Molodetszno,
but it would not stop at this side station. So I entered the station
anyway and told the head of this station my story, and I said I will
give him some papers that were still a very hot commodity if he could
do something to stop the train right there, or even make it go slower
so I could jump on it. It was late at night and he went towards the
train with a red lantern, a sign that they should stop. The train stopped
for a minute and I quickly went on top of the platform. It was an open
train car, and it too five hours for it to arrive at Kurenets. When
the train arrived near Kosita St. in Kurenets, I jumped off and ran
away, fearing someone would chase me to ask questions.
It was a dark day in autumn and it suited my dark heart. Externally
I looked like an army man with my green uniform, but this shiny green
did not express my mood in seeing the dark vistas, where once my hometown
stood. Everywhere I saw empty fields where only chimneys stood, and
also some broken buildings that had been made from cinder blocks. All
of the homes that had been made from wood had been burned to the ground.
I once went across land that once had been gardens for homes, and arrived
at the area where synagogues used to be. This place was also empty of
buildings. Across from me stood the central market that was now empty
and desolated. Only on the western part of the market did I see one
home still standing. It was our home, which had been made of blocks.
I couldnt understand why it was still standing. I wanted to go
there, but my legs felt paralyzed, but finally I was able to walk and
slowly I approached the house and entered. I cannot describe the meeting
with my sister Doba, my only sibling who survived here, out of the whole
family, except for my sister Hanna who left for Eretz Israel before
the war. For a long time we sat there crying. During that day I met
with other remnants of our Jewish town who had returned from the forest.
Some of them escaped from the ghetto in Vileyka, amongst them was Dinka
Spektor, the sister of Kopel. They told me of the last days of the Vileyka
ghetto that was known by the Germans as the Ghetto of the Useful Jews.
They told me information about what happened in the ghetto after I left.
I learned the Vileyka ghetto existed for seven months after the annihilation
of Kurenets. I found out information about Kopel Spektor and his activities
in the ghetto. Kopel was very helpful to the young people in escaping
the ghetto refused to join them at first since he feared that if he
escaped he would endanger the people who stayed in the ghetto since
he was so important to the Germans and knew him so well and used his
technical skills. He decided to wait for the day when all would escape,
and he became one of the organizers. Then he worked tirelessly to collect
and fix weapons for the day of the escape. One time he was asked to
fix some locks on a door in the supply depot of the Germans. While he
was fixing the lock, he saw that in this depot there were many weapons
and ammunition, so he immediately made copies of the keys so he could
secretly get some weapons out of there for the use of the partisans.
Kopel was able to repair many dysfunctional guns and to replace missing
parts so that they would work.
Kopel was one of the organizers of the escape. They contacted the partisans
in the forest and there was a Christian man who would arrive in the
ghetto with his horse and buggy and would bring wood for furnace, and
they would hide the weapons on his buggy as he was taking out the wood.
Then he would take the weapons out to the forest to hide them. They
would do this by making holes in the wood and hide the weapons and bullets
inside. They called them their Revenge Tablets. Originally, some young
people escaped. Amongst them was Riva, the daughter of Shaptai Gordon,
and later her husband Shimon Zimmerman. After they escaped they joined
the partisan brigade that was headed by Shaptzenko, and they asked him
to get the Jews out of the ghetto. But Shaptzenko said that first they
must prepared weapons for them, so Shimon got in touch with this person
who would transfer the weapons. His name was Januk and he was from the
village Vilovitz, but his nickname amongst them was The One with
the Yellow Beard. The person who arranged the permission for him
to get into the ghetto was Schatz, who was responsible for the workers
in the ghetto.
Anyway, this Januk arrived in the ghetto a few times and was successful
in transferring the weapons. Shortly before the day of the escape, the
18th of March, 1943, he came with a letter telling them that on Saturday,
the partisans would send horses and buggies to the forest behind the
train station. Everyone was very excited, but then a woman saw a policeman
coming towards Januk, and then took him to the police station. This
woman thought Januk was arrested and started screaming soon the Germans
would come and kill everyone. This was in the afternoon and the Germans
were resting. All the Jews of the ghetto were very panicked, and they
decided to use this time to escape. Many, many people were killed during
that escape, and amongst them was Kopel, his brother Eliyau, and two
of his sisters. My sister Doba escaped from the ghetto that day. At
that time she worked in the warehouses in Vileyka for a German by the
name of Rydel. She worked separately from the other Jews, and her job
was to fix the clothes brought over from annihilated Jewish communities.
Once in a while, Doba took some of those clothes and shoes and gave
them to Jews in the camp who were ready to escape, and also to people
who were already in the forest. Doba herself had some clothes ready
for the time when she would escape. Anyway, she had everything ready
for her to be taken, but during that day, March 18, she didnt
know anything. It turned out that she was going to the train station
with some clothes that was getting ready to give to Gershon Eiyshiski
who worked in Vileyka near the train station. Gershon was somehow able
to transfer the clothes to his relatives who were already in the forest.
At that point she found out about the escape and she took her clothes
and started running with the rest of them. She quickly put on the long
coat that she had prepared ahead of time so people would not recognize
her. After some hours of running, the long and warm coat made her running
very difficult. Also, carrying a bag of clothes was very difficult,
so she threw it away. The escapees who passed on the way and recognized
the clothes as Dobas were sure that she had been killed. So when
they arrived in the forest, they told the rest of the people that Doba
was killed. When she came there eventually, everyone was greatly shocked
to see her alive.
Later on, Doba told me about the fate of my parents. During the day
of the annihilation, my father was with other Jewish men in the prayer
house that we called the rabbi minyan, and from there he was taken to
his last walk. My mother and my youngest sister, Rashkaleh, who was
16 at the time, together with 6 other women, were able to escape during
the day of the annihilation. They arrived at the village Poken, and
hid in the barn of Tkachuk, a resident of the village. They hid for
three days. When Tkachuk realized there were people hiding there, he
notified the Germans. They came there and caught all the women. The
Christians who watched it said that my mother fought the Germans. She
cursed them and spit in their faces and slapped one of them. So she
was the first to be killed, then they murdered the rest of the women.
I had two grenades with me. The story was very painful to hear, and
I decided that night to go to the village Poken and to get revenge on
Tkachuk for the blood of my mother and sister. I arrived at a house
where the person told me Tkachuk was living. I left a grenade at the
door, thinking that if someone would open it, it would explode. But
when I left the area I all of a sudden asked myself, But what
if not Tkachuk but someone else opens the door? And is it really the
right place? Is it Tkachuks place? So I returned and took
the grenade off and left the area. I realized that the memory of my
mother and Rashkaleh left such a deep hurt in my heart that no revenge
would make it heal. My heart filled with emotion, and I threw away the
two grenades. I returned home, to the only home that survived of all
the homes in the market. Our house. From that point we stopped talking
about the tragedies and we became frozen. I still needed to go to the
village Dyaditz, to visit my Christian friends Kostya and Agassia, who
were true friends. My sister told me that Kostya brought back the possessions
that our family had left with them. Kostya and Agassia received me with
much warmth. They kept bringing glasses filled with vodka and we drank
it as a sign of our friendship. They said that they would do whatever
they could do for us. I told them that there was nothing that I needed
and I only wanted to thank them for all that they had done and all that
they had wished to do for our family.
With the years that passed, slowly we found out the fates of different
people during the annihilation of 9/9/1942. Years later I found out
from Yehezkel (Charles Gelman), the son of Yitzhak Zimmerman ZL,
about Zalman Mendel, the tailor who was his relative. His mother, Feyga,
together with her grandson Shimshon, who survived an earlier killing,
were hiding in his house. On the day of the killing, Zalman Mendel,
who was a sick man, as well as the mother of Yehezkel with the baby
who was less than a year old, knew they could not escape to the forest.
Before the annihilation, Zalman Mendel was known as a very able person
and the Germans used him for tailoring and shoemaking, and the house
was filled with shoes and clothes and Zalman would work day and night
as a laborer for the Germans. Fearing that someone would steal the Germans
belongings, police surrounded his house at all times. Still, there was
a hideout in the house, where the daughter of Zalman Mendel, Dishka,
and her husband, Hirshel, the son of Elhanan Alperovich the butcher,
lived. They were still very young and they planned to go to the forest.
But since the place was surrounded by police, they decided to hide there,
and when the opportunity came, they would escape to the forest. Anyway,
they were able to hide there, but when finally they decided to escape
to the forest, they had to move a big bureau that was covering the hideout,
and the policemen who watched the door heard it and caught them and
There was also another person from the Dinestein family who was able
to hide with his family during that day. He begged his family to come
with him to the forest, but they refused. He expressed to them that
in the hideout they would die for sure, but to no avail. Although he
showed them he was able to leave and come back, he left them there to
die. HE was able to reach the forest, where he stayed for some years,
walking around as if there was a curse put on him. There, in the forest,
he found his death.
After a few days I went to visit Joseph Norman. This was October 1.
We also encountered Lazar, who used to work in the printing house. At
least externally he looked happy to see us. He said to us, You
must think that I didnt know about all the secret pamphlets you
printed. I knew already then that you belonged to some partisan unit
that was working underground, but I am not one to idly talk. I saw everything
but I knew how to keep quiet.
We suspected that he was lying, but we didnt confront him. In
Vileyka we also met with Volinitz, one of the partisans met during my
walk to the front, to the Vostok. During those years he became a high-ranking
officer. He became the commander of a full brigade of partisans. He
became known as the partisan who freed Vileyka from the Nazis when the
Red Army started to come near Vileyka. The rumors were that the town
of Vileyka was given to the Red Army by the partisans as an area free
of Germans. From Volinitz we heard much about Itzkaleh Einbender and
Nyomka Shulman. Brave fighters, they were, Volinitz said,
and this Einbender was a true hero. Can you imagine? 18 trains
this guy derailed! From this you can imagine how many Nazis he killed.
I also heard about the bravery of Itzkaleh from other people. From all
the Jewish members of our partisan unit, only Zalman Gurevich and I
survived, but we were not together. After some time I moved to Molodetszno,
and Zalman was in Smorgon and later in Poland. As I later found out
from Zalman, he met Itzkaleh when he returned to the area, where he
stayed for more than a month. The story could be found in Megilat Kurenets.
From that story we find out that he also came to the town of Kurenets
and did many missions together with Zalman, against the collaborators.
Itzkaleh was known as Dvitka, and his bravery was renowned, and many
collaborators feared him. During the summer of 1943, after derailing
a train, Itzkaleh, together with members of this unit, went home with
other members of his unit to Dolhinov, to celebrate the success of their
mission. One of the villagers who saw them went to the Germans and told
them about the party. German soldiers surrounded the house. Itzkaleh
was able to escape from the house, but while he was retreating, he was
shot and killed. After his death he received the highest awards from
A Fateful Meeting Years passed, and in September of 1947 I was
invited to a cousins wedding in Minsk. The house was filled with
guests. During the party I met a girl by the name of Tzila. She was
younger than I. Like me, she went through the hellish years of the war,
she lost relatives and friends, and she escaped from her hometown and
hid in the forest through periods of cold and starvation and other troubles.
Now she was in Minsk, in accounting. We started dating each other. Although
it was hard to admit that in Soviet Russia I wanted to go to Israel,
I told it to Tzila. I told her that I had a sister there that left before
the war, and my second sister left Russia on the way to Israel. I found
out that Tzila was actually born in Eretz Israel. During the First World
War, before she was born, her family lived in Pleshensitz. At the end
of that war, during the battles between the Polish and the Bolsheviks,
the family was in Dolhinov, and they stayed there during the time when
the Polish took charge of the town Since Pleshensitz was now part of
the Soviet Union, they could not return there. The only way they could
think of going to the Soviet Union was from another country, but not
from Poland. So they decided to go to Eretz Israel, and to one day go
from there to the Soviet Union to be with the rest of the family. But
ten years they lived in Haifa, and Tzilas father, who was very
able, found different jobs. So Tzila was born in Israel, but when she
was about six years old, the family left the country and went to the
Soviet Union. The reason they left was because her mother became sick
and could not handle the warm climate But despite some of the difficulties
they encountered in Israel, they still had a deep love for the country,
and Tzila was fluent in Hebrew, and even knew some Arabic.
Some months later we decided to marry. In October of that year, we arrived
in Pleshensitz for our wedding. Our party took place in a private home,
and we served bread and salted fish, and of course some vodka. We sang
in Russian and Yiddish, but still my heart was saddened knowing that
not one of my family members was there. After drinking some vodka, I
started singing in Hebrew, songs from distant days, days of school in
Kurenets. The songs of Byalik. The father of Tzila joined me, and his
eyes filled with tears. From that day on we became very close to each
other. I moved with Tzila to Molodetszno where our children were born.
Here we found out about the establishment of Israel. We were excited
when Golda Meir came to the Soviet Union as an ambassador for Israel.
On the other hand, we suffered the anti-Semitism and the trials Jewish
doctors (who were accused of some conspiracies). As Jews we knew the
Soviets were spying on us. We always had to be very careful. I would
like to tell a story that happened to me.
In 1948 I received a letter from my cousin Moshe Alperovich, from Israel.
Moshe was the son of my Aunt Rashke, the sister of my father. Moshe,
together with his mother and sister Sarah, were able to escape to the
forest during the day of the annihilation. But Rashke died there from
starvation. After the war, my cousin Moshe went to Israel, and the letter
supposedly came from Tel Aviv and was written in Yiddish. The return
address was Shderot Rothschild Street, Tel Aviv. Tzila and I were very
excited. In the letter was written that he was married and had a daughter,
and even had a drawing by a baby. Although we so wanted to have a contact,
when we thought about it, we became very suspicious. First, how was
Moshe able to find our address? And the fact that so soon he was a father
to a girl who could draw with a pencil seemed unbelievable. I knew that
he had only left Russia two years before, and he was not married then.
So we never answered the letter, knowing that it must be a trick. As
later we found out, Moshe Alperovich only married in 1952. It must have
been that this letter was sent by the secret police, who waited for
Quiet Hatred Amongst the people who worked with me in the Molodetszno
printing house was Marek. Once in a while, he would announce loudly,
Whatever our Alperovich here says is not really important. I wish
I could read his thoughts, because his thoughts are what are really
important. Implying that what I said and what I thought were two
I was greatly upset by his constant teasing. I remember one day, it
was nothing in particular about that day, it was during our break on
an ordinary day. Although it wasnt a holiday, people would still
drink. Then they wouldnt know how to keep their mouths shut. There
were very few Jews left in Molodetszno, but even the very few didnt
please the other residents. A young Jewish guy passed by, and he was
naturally overweight. Immediately one of the writers of the newspaper
started saying to me, Tell me, what is the name of this man. Im
already writing a satire about a Jew that is a parasite living on the
account of others and never knew what starvation was, even at times
when the entire Russian population was starving. This man is very suitable
for the satire that I am writing and I want to use his name so it would
This was in the 50s, when there was great hate for the Jews in Soviet
Russia, during the time of the Doctors Trials. Many times you
would encounter conversations amongst the population about how they
were scared to go to doctors since most of the doctors in Russia were
Jews, and they betrayed the nation. In the winter of 1953, my wife Tzila
and I went to a health resort. They would have cultural activities at
the resort, and a Soviet colonel came to speak about the technical advancement
of Soviet Russia.
At the end of the speech, it was usual to ask questions, and people
felt that they showed their loyalty to the Soviet Union by being interested
in the subject and asking lots of questions. Since many of the people
who were present for this speech knew nothing about technology but still
wanted to show loyalty, they asked questions that had nothing to do
with technology. Since the Soviet system was that you had to answer
the questions, whether or not they were on the topic, and not dismiss
anything, he answered them. Most of the questions had to do with the
so-called Jewish betrayal. At the end of the speech, someone came to
me with a worried sound in his voice and said to me quietly, I
would like you to know that I have a very important political position
in this area, and I am not supposed to tell you this, but I would like
to ask your forgiveness for the questions in regard to the Jews that
these people asked here. I am sure that times will change and the Soviet
people will show a nicer side of their personality. This ugly wave of
hatred will subside.
Although I surmised that the man was really honest with me, I Still
had to be very careful as a person who appeared very Jewish, and it
was very hard for me to really rest in this place where the atmosphere
was so hateful.
There were also Jew-haters in the printing house. There was one mechanic
who was very talented at his job, his name was Katzan. In 1946, I was
the head of the printing department in this printing house, and here
as well as in Vileyka, Riva nee Gordon Zimmerman from Kurenets worked
with me, and lived in one of the rooms in the printing house. Since
the nights were very cold, she collected some discarded papers to burn
in the furnace in her room. When Katzan saw her holding papers, he started
looking at the ones she took and decided that some of them were of value,
and went to call the police to inform them of her disloyalty to the
USSR. Riva came to me to tell me what had happened. I told her to immediately
go and burn the papers in the furnace, and I went to the telephone room
to talk to Katzan. I informed him that his job was t o take care of
the technical side of the printing side, but was far as the papers,
I was the one who was responsible for it, and he should not get involved
in it. I also informed him that I told Riva to take the paper and since
the papers were already burned, as I had informed him, Katzan knew there
was nothing he could do and he didnt contact the police.
In 1948, my wife went to visit her parents in Pleshensitz, and I had
my lunches in the cafeteria-style restaurant in Molodetszno. I took
my soup and sat by the table, and a drunk Christian man kept saying
loudly, Bey zidov say rasia, meaning, Beat the Jews
and save Russia.
Another person in the restaurant said to him, Why are you yelling
like this? Here is a real Jew sitting here. Beat him up and save Russia.
Immediately the drunk approached my table and tried to pull my soup
from me. I took a flour pot that was on the table and hit him on his
head. The drunk man shook and fell on the floor. Immediately people
in the restaurant started cursing me, and some wanted to beat me up
in revenge for the comrade who fell. I Felt I was in real danger, and
I Was very lucky that Andrey Volinitz entered the restaurant. HE was
well known as a hero of the Soviet Union and beloved by many. As soon
as he found out what happened, he pushed the crowd aside and came to
me. HE shook my hand and hugged me and told the people, You must
know that this Jew fought with me as one of the most loyal and dedicated
The spirit in the restaurant immediately changed. The drunk man was
taken out and now everyone wanted to be our friend. They tried to give
us vodka, and they wanted to appear open minded.
Obviously there were other people who were honest and open minded among
the Russian population, people like Kostya and Agassia, and Bakatz,
the citizen of Kurenets who proved his good deeds toward the Jews, and
endangered himself by staying with them through the toughest days. One
of the most sensitive deeds done by this righteous Bakatz was when he
invited some of the remnants of the Kurenets communities as soon as
they returned to town from their forest hideouts, and gave them the
big Torah book from the synagogue that he saved in his house through
all the days of the destruction of the community.
IT was very hard for me to visit my hometown where my family was killed,
but still I had a desire to see Bakatz and to talk to him. I felt as
if I was going on a pilgrimage to a holy man, but I delayed this desire
for pilgrimage for a long time. The son of Bakatz worked in the Molodetszno
post office. I met him often and always tried to show the feelings of
our deep love for his father., which existed in all the hearts of the
remnants of the Kurenets Jews.
Bakatz belonged to the Baptist sect that believed in a life of piety
and purity. He was very old by the time I came to him. He lived in a
little village near the water mill that once belonged to the Jew Mota
Leib Kuperstock, who perished with his sons Zeev and Josef, and their
families. When I expressed my admiration for all that he did, he said
to me, Considering the horrors and the travels he witnessed, what
he did was so small that there was no need to thank him. HE further
expressed thanks for the heavens that kept him from being engulfed by
the evil waves of hatred for Jews that swept amongst the rest of the
I sat him for a while and then said goodbye. In 1950, I visited Kostya
in the village Diyadich, and he told me something that happened eight
years before in 1942, which seemed to affect the life of Kostya now.
What happened there was that after our first partisan mission when Elich
died, I found myself in a very depressed situation. I went to Luban
to look for Noah Dinestein from Vileyka, who trained us in military
action. I couldnt find him there, but when I returned to Kurenets
with my gun, I passed by the house of Kostya and I saw that two armed
men were trying to take the cow from him. I pretended to be part of
a partisan unit and scare them, and they left the area. So now Agassia
told me that a relative came to visit them from a far away place, and
Kostya went to the Kehanina train station, but he didnt return
and it was a long time and he was worried about their situation. I asked
for permission to check the situation, and I had to take a day off from
work. I went to Kehanina station and approached the police there, but
we could not get any information. It was as if he had vanished without
a trace. So I had no choice but to return to Molodetszno, and Agassia
came to Diyadich. Then she said Kostya had returned home in a very bad
situation, being beaten up and his toes were blue from being frozen.
What happened was that in Kehanina, two men who pretended to be policemen
came up to him. One of them, he thought was one of the people who had
attacked him eight years before. During this encounter they took everything
he had, beat him, and pulled him the snow. They took off his boots and
he was left alone, barefoot in an open field.
It took him a long time and help from people he encountered for him
to finally arrived at home. He was in a very bad condition and taken
to as hospital in Vileyka. They had no solution but to cut his toes,
and he was in the hospital for many months. When he finally recovered,
I was able to get him a job in the printing house, where he became the
So now I would see him daily in Molodetszno, and I was very happy to
help take care of him.
The Secret Ring
Every day I dreamed of the time when I Would leave Molodetszno for Poland
and from there go to see my sisters Hana and Duba in Israel. Many times
it seemed to me a dream I would never accomplish, so I continued to
work dedicatedly in the printing house.
Generally, I treated the people I worked with with camaraderie and good
will except for those who showed open anti-Semitism. If I had to be
truthful, since the war ended, I acquired very few true friends. In
my heart I was saying goodbye to the place and didnt allow myself
deep friendship. But the one person I Felt very close to was Vlodia,
a member of our partisan unit from the days of Volkokviczina. Vlodia
was only his codename when he was with our unit, but his real name was
Danilotsky. Vlodia lived in Molodetszno. He was a friendly man who was
very honest and truly loved the Jewish people. It was a constant love
that was unusual in those days in the Soviet Union.
Vlodia, as I said before, fell as a POW to the Germans during the first
few days of the war and was taken with thousands of other POWs to the
market in Kurenets. When he arrived there, some Jewish members of our
partisan unit (which would be formed later) helped him escape. Later
I met him when we were in the area of Luban and Uzla where Elich Alperovich
was killed, but since that time when the three of us hid in a tree from
the Germans, I didnt encounter him again.
Vlodia belonged to the brigade of Volinitz and he was the commissar.
HE continued in a similar job after the war, serving in the department
of propaganda and education in the region of Molodetszno.
Vlodia very much lived in the past and all that happened during the
war was still alive inside him. He loved talking about those old days
and recalling the missions of the partisan units. He would tell of the
dedication of the Jewish fighters and telling of their large part in
all the missions.
One day he asked all the surviving members who were still in the area
to go to Volkoviczina, the base of many partisan missions. For me this
was a very bitter memorial for the time of the annihilation of the residents
of Kurenets and the surrounding the area, and in spite of his excitement
about this, I could not take part in it. Although I didnt take
part in this nostalgic mission, our friendship still remained strong
and he still saw me as his confidante.
In the year 1948, there was much talk in the USSR of the new treatment
of the authorities for the different nationals, and it was decided to
give the variant nationalities some independence. This was manifested
by taking away the political jobs of those who came from other areas,
and then giving them to people who were born in the area. So Vlodias
job as politruk for education and propaganda was taken from him and
given to a Belarussian. Vlodia was very bitter, and I think in many
ways he wanted me to express the way he felt to Volinitz, the hero of
the Soviet Union, who was from here and very popular and loved by the
public and the authorities. He figured he could help him keep his job.
But eventually the plan to take his job away was canceled and he returned
to work there.
Since Vlodia mentioned many times the names of Jewish people who took
part in the fight, others would say to him, Im getting tired
of you talking about Itzaleh Einbender and Nyomka Shulman, Bertha Dimmenstein,
etc. as if they were the only heroes of the Soviet Union.
But these complaints didnt stop Vlodia. He never changed his mind
about the part Jews took in the resistance, and he constantly mentioned
in conversation a need to write stories about it in the paper. He wanted
to collect all the names and detailed information of the members of
the resistance, Jews and non-Jews. So Vlodia wrote detailed stories
about all the missions of the unit and gave them to the secretary of
the Communist Party in Molodetszno.
The secretary was not very excited about the article and said, This
is very strange. The Soviet people fought heroically and sacrificed
themselves, and now people come around and try to stick this heroic
Russian bravery on to the Jews. Until 1953, Vlodia was not able
to publish this information, and they didnt even return his original
In 1953 they started investigating me, and I am sure it had something
to do with Vlodias story, since in his essay he wrote my name
as one of the members who was still alive in Russia. In the investigation
they kept asking me about my missions during my days as a partisan and
why I decided to work in the German printing house in Vileyka and to
serve the enemies of the Soviet Union. During the investigation I kept
repeating the story and the explanation as I wrote here. I emphasized
that it was not my idea but that I wasnt as a member of the partisans,
but I could not convince the investigators until finally Vlodia sent
a letter to the investigators explaining how I helped the partisans
by printing pamphlets and by going to the forest, and how I was instructed
to go to Vileyka by the partisans. After the letter they go of me, but
Vlodia continuously tried to get the story published.
In 1956, I went with my wife and children with Vlodias family
to vacation near an amusement park. They had a shooting range in this
place where you had to shoot five bottles that stood next to each other.
When they saw me shooting, someone yelled to me, Lets see
what this Jew can do in a mocking voice. Five times I aimed and
each time, I made a bottle fall. Vlodia became very excited and said,
Yes, yes, we knew how to fight. But who wants to hear about it?
HE ended the conversation with a hint of disappointment.
During that year, my wife went to the market with Mikhla the daughter
of Shaptai Gordon (nee Alperovich?) the sister of Riva. She had heard
from her something very exciting, which filled us with hope, something
about the dream that we couldnt talk about, the dream to immigrate
to Israel. Mikhla told her that she received a letter from my cousin
Leah nee Gurevich Shogol which said that she was able to go to Poland,
and there she found out that the Polish authorities let everyone who
lived in Poland before the war return there so families could stay together.
In the letter she hinted that there was a possibility of emigrating
from Poland to Israel. So, one night we met at the house of Mikhla and
Leibl the son of Alte Zimmerman from Kurenets, and we found out that
many of the Jewish families who had survived Kurenets are also trying
to leave Russia through Poland. They decided that I should go to Moscow
to the Polish consulate and ask for permission for four families to
go to Poland: Moshe Alperovichs, Mikhla and Leibl Zimmermans,
Riva and Shimon Zimmermans, and mine.
Here I must tell you that my cousin Leah Shogol (the daughter of my
first cousin Nathan) did much to help. Since there were family ties,
she asked to unite the families. In the Polish consulate in Moscow,
I didnt encounter any difficulties. They seemed to want the citizens
of the former Polish state to return, but then I had to go to the Department
of the Interior. It took a long time for the four families to receive
permission. Here I would like to talk about David Katz. In 1945, the
printing house head, Leiblin, asked me to find a job for a Jew by the
name of David Katz who had no profession. He was a native of the town
of Kerve near Molodetszno, and during the war he lived in the forest.
On the day he returned to his town after the victory, the residents
of Kerve attacked him and tied him to a tree and started beating him.
They treated hi with brutality and accused him of being an American
When the police came by, instead of imprisoning the thugs, they imprisoned
David Katz for being an American spy. When Leiblin, who was involved
in the Communist Party found out about it, he talked to the authorities
on behalf of David and explained that he was a very simple man who could
only speak Yiddish, and it was totally irrational that he could be an
American spy. So now I gave him a job to mix the chemicals. Katzan,
who I mentioned before, was a true anti-Semite, tortured David on a
regular basis and was ready to kill him. One day I found that the pail
used to mix the burning lead was filled with water, and if it had been
put in the boiler, it would have exploded and killed the person who
was in charge of it, who was David Katz. After a short investigation
I found it was Katzan who had filled it with water. I immediately called
him and said that it was totally unacceptable. I can tell you
this because during the days of the war when I was fighting the German
tanks, you collaborated with them and you fixed their tanks.
A few times David was able to escape the beatings, but one time at the
Molodetszno train station, a few men jumped him and beat him up. He
went to the hospital for several days and when he left, he was blind
in one eye. He could no longer work in mixing the lead, and we found
him a job cutting paper. But soon David and the rest of us realized
we had no life in the Soviet Union. He immigrated to Poland and then
to Israel a long time before I was able to reach the area.
Parting The year was 1957, forty years since the Bolshevik Revolution.
The Soviet newspaper policy was to write about the anonymous heroes
of the nation, and Vlodia felt he could accomplish his old dream of
publishing the stories of our old partisan unity. He asked for the exact
names for the Jews in our unit. I told him to use the names they were
known as amongst Jews such as Itzhak Einbender, Binyamin Shulman, Eli
Alperovich, and so on. If we used those names, we dont need to
mention that they are Jewish; people would just know.
Vlodia contacted the central archive in Minsk, where you could find
info on the different partisan units, and then he expressed his wish
to write the story. TO my surprise they were very receptive to this
idea and gave their full assistance. So after a few days, a few workers
from the Minsk archives arrived in Molodetszno and met with Vlodia.
They said they should visit all the places tied to those events. We
left in two cars from Molodetszno with the three people from the archives
of Minsk. First we went to Kurenets to the house that once belonged
to Nathan Gurevich, who was already in Israel at that point Now the
house was situated on Smorgon St., which became renamed Partisan St.
This house was one of the only ones left in the market, and now it was
the Partisan St. Two Russian teachers lived there. At first when we
went there, the two teachers were worried that we had been sent there
by the authorities to confiscate the apartment that now belonged to
them. When we explained to them our true mission they relaxed. We told
them that during the war there was a resistance unit that fought the
Nazis that had come there. They said they encountered things in the
apartment that surprised them. They found the double walls in the attic,
and in certain areas, the floor was collapsing. I explained to them
that this was the house of my uncle, and the area that was collapsing
was the cow shed, and that under the ground there was a hiding place
where I printed the pamphlets against the Nazis, first for the unit
in Kurenets, and later for the unit that started in Volkoviczina. As
I was telling the story, I remembered that many years ago I had hidden
a knife that I found in our cowshed, covered in cloth. Although 16 years
passed, I wanted to find it. So we started digging in the cow shed and
I found it. The knife was all rusted. After telling them some more details,
we continued on our way.
We visited the mother of Motyokevich, a member of the Volkoviczina fighters,
in the village Ivonzovitz. As I told you before, the Nazis executed
her husband since they werent able to find her son, who had been
sent by the underground to work for the Nazis as a police officer, and
at that post he managed to kill some Nazi policemen.
We also visited the place where Elich Alperovich was killed, and there
I told them about Mrs. Haikovitz who waited for us and notified us that
the Germans were in town, thus saving our lives. Once again, Vlodia
wrote the story and gave it to the publisher of the newspaper in Molodetszno,
and once again he was told that there was too much about Jews in the
story. He then gave the story to another newspaper, Znanaya Nyunisti
(The Flag of the Youth) and they had a full page story and in its center
was a picture of the wooden home of Nathan Gurevich, and also pictures
of a few members of the partisan group, amongst them my picture. The
material was edited by Irena Magzis, and Alexander Harkevich, who was
They edited it was they wished. They mentioned the names of all the
Jews who took part in the fight except for Zalman Gurevich and Josef
Norman, who had left the Soviet Union. They made it clear that Jews
were the main part of this unit. After the piece was published, Irena
Magzis was investigated and fired. Shortly after, they printed the same
article in the daily of Molodetszno, Salinskaya Gazetta, but in this
article they didnt put my picture. At that point I had already
asked to leave the Soviet Union for Poland, so it made me unworthy,
although the head of the newspaper said it wouldnt be right to
put a picture of someone who worked for the paper. This was in 1959.
As soon as people found out I was going to leave the USSR, Vlodia came
to me and said, You shouldnt do it. Now that you have become
known in these articles in the paper, you could affect your future greatly.
Volinitz also came to convince me to stay. I couldnt tell them
that my true aim was to go to Israel, but I explained that I was born
as a Polish citizen, and that I wished to return to my nation. But they
were both disappointed and parted from me with great excitement. This
was November of 1959. During the last evening of my work with the printing
press, they had a celebration where they showed much love and respect
for me. That evening I also said my good-byes to Kostya and Agassia.
They cried quietly while we separated, remembering the strong connection
to my family. Kostya said to me that he was ready to go after me to
the ends of the earth. While we were sitting in our apartment, all of
a sudden, a big group of young people who worked in the printing house
came in to say their good-byes. They brought a garushka and vodka bottles
and started celebrating. They said they left in the middle of work to
send me off. I begged them to go back to work, and I promised to stay
and let them in when they were done.
At around midnight they started to come, singing and dancing and drinking
as only Russians can, and they stayed until the morning hours. And this
is how we left the Soviet Union.
We stayed more than a year in Poland, an in 1960 we arrived in Israel. Afterword
Many years passed and I was an active citizen of Israel, but still in
my dreams Kurenets kept coming back to me. I kept meeting natives of
Kurenets, amongst them natives who settled the village Kfa-harif. In
one of my many visits to this village, I came to the house of Abba Nerutsky,
and during conversations about the old days of the Second World War,
Nerutsky told me of his experiences. His stories were so amazing that
no imagination of a writer could come near it (fix?).
I would like to mention here something about the killing of the 54.
I wrote about our meeting when he was about 15 years old when we escaped
from Kurenets, in June of 1941. He told me how his family wanted to
make sure that he would survive, and urged him to go to Russia past
the old border. After he separated from his father and the rest of his
family, he went alone with a small bag on his back, away from the town,
and when he arrived to the edge of Dolhinov St., the street that would
take you east, a Jewish resident of the town saw him from his window
and came out. He called to him in a mocking voice, You are also
escaping from town? If I, an adult, will live, we will find a way to
work it out with the Germans. I dont panic and escape, so what
reason do you have, a young and healthy person, to spread fear and rumors
of disasters? Go, you wild guy, go home. Dont unnecessarily plant
seeds of fear among the population.
Abba ignored this respected elderly Jews advice and left the town.
And for that he could now sit with me and tell of all that he experienced
during those years of the Holocaust. But so many years before, who knew
what would be right to do? So I must point here that this confusion
was natural in those horrible days.
After four years of escape and service in the Red Army, disease and
other troubles, Abba Nerutsky returned to Kurenets as a young man of
19. As soon as he heard that Kurenets was free, all he wished was to
return there. Although he was told that there was no reason to return
to Kurenets, that he wouldnt find anyone alive, he still knew
he must arrive there. As long as he didnt do this wish, he would
not be able to rest. So for twenty days he traveled in different freight
trains until he arrived in Molodetszno. During those days and nights
he rode through desolate towns where everything was destroyed. From
Molodetszno he took another freight train to Vileyka and jumped off
the train when it sopped for a minute. Then he took the old, familiar
road between the two towns, the one with the cedar trees. When
I arrived at the place where the town was once located, I saw a desolate
and destroyed field filled with broken homes, and I could only see the
famous cloister that belonged to them, coming up from the ground. When
I arrived at the place that was once the central market, I found that
it was empty of homes and people. This was the early morning hour and
I was all alone. I sat on a hill of destruction and started crying,
not knowing what I should do with myself. While I was sitting there
crying quietly, a Christian man came to me and in a voice that had much
empathy he started talking. I found out that this was our Bakatz. At
this point I didnt know of his generous deeds for the Jewish community
of our town. He told me of what occurred here during the war years.
He tried to console me by saying that there were other remnants who
had survived and gathered here after returning from the forest.
Abba Nerutsky told me that he later encountered members of his distant
family. He met Itzhak Zimmerman and his wife Rachel with their two children.
He became like their son, and they moved to the house where he was able
to recover and find a job. Now Abba told me a story about the killing
of the 54. I always felt I belonged to those 54. It was only through
the intervention of Mataroz that I was able to survive. Despite the
fact that I was able to survive many times the close encounters with
death, this incident with the 54 was the most prominent in my memory.
Abba Nerutsky told me that together with other survivors, amongst them
Meir Mackler, they took the bones of the 54 from the killing field after
15 years and brought them to a Jewish burial. This took place after
he became a resident of Vileyka, where he married and worked in the
warehouse. He told me about the first year after they returned from
the forest, how they met for Yom Kippur in the house of Ruven Dimmenstein,
and prayed deeply and cried desperately. When he moved to Molodetszno
and later Vileyka, he kept coming to Kurenets to visit the graveyard.
One day when he came to visit, a villager who knew that he was a Jew
originally from Kurenets, told him that she came from the village Kalinn
and that when she went to the forest near Mikolinova to gather mushrooms,
she arrived to the area where they had originally killed the 54. The
woman said, I went to gather mushrooms, but then I arrived at
the place where the graves of your brothers were located. A huge fear
came over me. I saw in the ground, near the graves, many bones of people.
When Abba Nerutsky investigated the story, he found out that the residents
of the area kept coming to search the graves, thinking that there might
be some valuables that had been buried with the people. Immediately,
together with Meir Meckler, the searched the graves and found out the
woman was telling the truth. So they gathered the bones and returned
them to their graves without saying anything to the authorities.
Every year on the ninth of the Jewish month Av, they would gather with
the survivors and go to the cemetery in Kurenets, where they would mourn
the dead. One year during the ninth of Av, he found that the graves
were open again and the bones were thrown, so once again they gathered
the bones and returned them to the graves. In the year 1957, during
the ninth of Av, many came to Kurenets. The Fiddler family came from
Vilna, and one Jew came all the way from Arkhangelsk. During that day
they had a meeting to discuss what to do. They decided to take the remnants
of the 54 from the killing field and bring them to a Jewish burial in
the old Jewish cemetery of Kurenets. Since many of the Jews were planning
to leave the Soviet Union and go to Poland, they knew that this was
the last chance to fulfill this commandment, and it should not be left
undone. They decided to do it secretly, and not notify the authorities
who would not allow such an undertaking.
During the day they hired a horse and buggy, and Abba, who was responsible
for the warehouses of Vileyka, brought some new sacks made of burlap
and digging tools, and quietly went about doing their holy mission.
They divided themselves into two groups. One group dug the original
holes, and gathered the remnants into the sacks. The second group went
to the old cemetery and dug two graves, one for men, the other for women.
We did it, said Abba, with broken hearts and our bare
hands. We did it on purpose that day, so we can touch without any filter
from our dear ones. Many tears were spilled during those hours, and
as much as we could, we separated the bodies of men from women according
to clothes that they wore and other signs like long hair and braids.
We did it very carefully. Amongst us there were some women. Chanka Minkov,
or Chanka Nehamasheinas (as she was better known) and her daughter
Masha. Tzirka Shklir, Zelda (nee Botwinnik) Alperovich (The second wife
of Orchik) from Rakov, and Nachamka Zimmerman. They were amongst the
people who gathered the bones. Amongst the people was Yankeleh Orchiks
(Alperovich), who was one who was taken with the 54 who I told you the
story of how he was able to escape and in the forest help many to survive.
Nachamka Zimmerman was able to identify amongst the bodies, the bodies
of Pesia Yente Zukovzky, the mother of Chaim Zukovzky and Dvoshel Zukovzky,
the gentle soul, the talented Kurenets teacher who founded the youth
movement Hashomer Hazair in Kurenets. Nachamka was able to recognize
the clothes of Pesia Yente, who was hiding at her house together with
her son Chaim when the Nazis came to take them, and recognized the clothes
she was wearing when she was taken away. People said the clothes survived
all those years because of something special in the land in the area
that kept them in good shape.
After they gathered all the bones, they took them to the Jewish cemetery
and covered the new graves with earth. They recited mourning passages
and left the area, hoping that the authorities would never find out
about what they did.
But the authorities did find out and started investigating them, emphasizing
that this could cause disease since they had used their bare hands to
transfer the bones. Abba answered to them that if they were so worried
about the public health situation, why were they not concerned about
the many times the graves were opened by the villagers who didnt
use any special care when they exposed the dead bodies in their treasure
hunts. On the other hand, we, who did it out of special commitment
to our dear ones, you now find a reason to complain and to punish us?
Abba said it to them in a very bitter way. He said that amongst the
investigators there were some sensitive people who understood him and
this whole affair ended with no complications. Since most of the people
left the area to go to Poland on their way to Israel, they had no time
to put gravestones in the cemetery. Since I didnt take part in
these events, and I feel much guilt and see it as a failure on my part,
I would like to end my story with this chronicle. I would like to add
that in my chronicles I would like to bring up not only brave deeds,
but also our failures and our inability to fight during those horrible
days. We shouldnt be ashamed to express it, because without reporting
it, something of the dark atmosphere of those days would be denied,
and we would not get a true image of the time.
(Nachum Alperovich Picture 1.jpg: Nachum Alperovich was sent by the
partisans to work in the German printing press in Vileyka)
(Nachum Alperovich Picture 2.jpg: story from the newspaper Flag of the
Youth about the resistance. Nachum Alperovich is the 2nd from the bottom.
The house was Zalman Gurevichs.)
(Nachum Alperovich Pictures 3-5.jpg: 3 parts, each in Russian and Hebrew
top: In the little town of Kurenets in Belarus, the town that is located
on the road between Molodetszno and Lake Narutz, at Partisan Street
#1 there stands a home not different from other homes. Now the family
of the teacher Moskvitzeva lives here. They arrived here a short time
ago. When they first came, they found strange things in the cowshed
that was adjacent to the home. They found a deep area that had been
dug out under the floor, and they also found a double wall in the attic.
They were very surprised and wondered what was the reason for it. Now
this is what happened here some years before:
In the dug out area under the cowshed, a small oil lamp burned. There,
Nachum Alperovich was located. He had stains of printing dyes and he
was sweating. His hands moved quickly, in nervousness looking for letters.
Slowly the letters became words, and here is the first pamphlet:
Farmer! Keep your bread. Dont give one seed to the fascists. Help
the partisans. The first victim of the unit was Ilia (Eliyau) Alperovich
from Kurenets, and this is what happened: The partisan atriad rested
after a mission. Ilia Alperovich was the guard. When he realized the
Germans had surrounded the unit, he fired a warning shot. There was
a bitter battle and the atriad retreated. The shots stopped for no clear
reason. Afterward we found out that Eliyau was caught and wounded, and
he purposely told the Germans that there was a very large force of partisans,
about 250 people, with the most modern weapons. That was why the Germans
stopped shooting and retreated, leaving about 40 of their people killed. When
we returned to the base we buried in military honor young Ilia. Only
a few of the units members were lucky and survived to see the
day of liberation. Heroic deaths amongst the members of this unit were
Zina Bitzyon, Vladimir and Nadzadeh Sobol, Bertha Dimmenstein, Victor
Sokholov, Yitzhak Einbender, Yora Bilshov, Binyamin Shulman, Nikolai
and Alexander Sherutzin, Noach Dinnestein, and other heroes, sons and
daughters of the Soviet nation. Amongst the survivors, Piotr Mikhailovich
Donilotskin, the secretary of the propaganda of the party in the town
of Molodetszno, Nikolai Motyokevich, an engineer and an architect, Nachum
Alperovich, a chief typesetter of the district, Ivan Sherutzin, a member
in the Kollhoz named for Yakov Kolles in the Vileyka district, and Mikhail
Basilik, the guide of the firefighters in Molodetszno.