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At the Onset of the War in Molodecno
By Chana nee Pozner Shafran
Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

p 271 of “With Proud Bearing”, 1939-1945, Chapters on the History of Fighting in
the Naaruzc Forest
I was born in Vilna., where we lived for the first years of my
childhood. My mother came from a traditional Zionist home. She came to Vilna with
her parents from the town Tritsin, or Stalingrad, in the Soviet Union. The
family arrived in Vilna in 1923, which was at that point a part of Poland.
She graduated from a Gymnasium for girls, where there were numerus clausus
rules in regards to Jewish students, and so there were very few Jewish
students. My mother graduated with many awards; her parents also made sure that
she could speak Hebrew. Already in the Soviet Union they had managed to teach
her Hebrew with the help of a private tutor. She was very proficient in the
My father - Mordechai Pozner - grew up in Warsaw. He served in the
Polish army and at one point, his army unit was stationed in Vilna. When time
came for the Jewish holidays Rosh Hannah and Yom Kippur, all the Jewish
soldiers were asked to be guests at the homes of Jews living in Vilna. My
father happened to be the guest at the family of my mother - that is how they
met. After two years of dating, they married, and this is how my father left
his home and his family in Warsaw and settled in Vilna, which at that point
was considered a provincial backwater town in Poland.
When I was still very young we moved to a nearby shtetl by the name
of Molodecno. At that point, I was already in nursery school, and I spoke
fluent Hebrew. When I was done with nursery school, I attended a Tarbut school
in Molodecno. When I reached the age of twelve, I skipped two grades and my
parents sent me to study in the “Tushiya Gymnasium” in Vilna. This high school
was located on Chopin street in Vilna.
In 1939, the Soviet took over the area. On June 22, 1941, when war started
between the Soviet Union and Germany, I studied in a Russian public high school in
Molodecno. Just about a month after the Germans took over the area, sometime
in the middle of July 1942, they arrived in Molodecno and collected all the
Jewish men and teenage boys that they could find, and, taking them on trucks,
left in the direction of Vileyka. It took some months before we found out what
had happened to them.
Before the Nazis killed them, they made the Jews write letters and
postcards saying that they would be in a labor camp and their families should
send them food supplies. They were never seen again. After some months, the
brotherly burial was discovered. It stood about fifteen kilometers from
Molodecno on the way to Vileyka. After this slaughter, only a few Jewish young
men who had hid from the Germans now remained in town. The rest were mainly
old and sick people, women, and children. My father, who worked in the
municipal slaughter-house on the outskirts of town, and who served as a
translator of German to the locals, was absent from the massacre due to his job.
On Saturday, the 25th of October 1941, very early in the morning, our
Jewish neighbor came in panic to the house and said that, once again, the
Germans had surrounded the town. She suggested to my mother that we should all
flee together. My mother said that first my little sister Liuba, who was
eleven years old and I, should run to our father and tell him to hide. She
assumed that just as before, the Nazis were only looking for men. So both of
us ran as fast as we could and told Father about what had occurred in town. I
never saw my mother again. Later on, when I was in the police station, I found
out from that neighbor that Mother was killed while she tried to escape from
the house. The Germans had shot at her as she tried to flee.
In the slaughterhouse, my father was friendly with the veterinarian, a
devout Christian. They had a very good relationship and they would converse
for hours. Now, my father trusted him and asked him to hide us in his office.
The veterinarian agreed to help, and the three of us hid underneath the large desk
in his office. He suggested of his own accord that he should go to Molodecno
and find out what was occurring there. He returned after an hour and told us
that he saw the Germans pulling elderly men, women, and children onto trucks
and then driving them to some unknown place. He said we had to stay in hiding
until night arrived and then we should leave the office, since the guards who
worked near the slaughter-house were looking for Jews who they knew worked in
the area. Amongst them, they were looking for my father, whom they knew very
When evening came we left the office, and through the fields we went
to a small bathhouse that stood in the vicinity of the river. In this
bathhouse we found other hiding Jews. After a short time, we heard
shouting: "JEWS! Put your hands up and immediately get out!" These were the
policemen who had found us after some Christian neighbors informed them of our
hiding place. They made us walk through the street where we had lived for many
years. Our Christian neighbors watched us from the sides of the road, and it
was as if they enjoyed the sight of seeing us walk with our hands above our
heads, followed by policemen who had lances at our backs. All the Jews who
were found that day were collected and put in the local police building. We
met about fifty men, women, and children. Amongst them was also our neighbor -
Paula Drutz. She was the one to tell me about the fate of my mother.
While we waited in the police station, my father saw an army buddy of
his who was now one of the policemen. He was sitting there nonchalantly
playing his guitar. My father begged him as a man who was to be shortly
executed, to give note to the local priest. At first, he ignored Father's
request, but when my father pleaded, he agreed to bring the note to the
priest. At midnight, the priest arrived with two policemen to the station.
They took my father to one of the private rooms, and, after some time, he was
returned. He explained to us the plan: one of the policemen would soon come,
and take him to the bathroom. After some time, my sister Liuba and I should
ask also to go to the bathroom. We would all then escape. While we
were waiting for my father to go, they would call Jews one by one and then the
Jews would return, beaten-up and confused. The girls were returned with
torn clothes and looks of horror in their faces; it wasn't difficult to guess
what had been done to them.
In Molodecno, there was at that time a large POW camp that contained
Soviet prisoners. Because of this camp, the entire town was lit up by huge
projectors to prevent the escape of POWs. When the policemen who escorted us
took us outside of the police station, he yelled to us, "Run very quickly,
kikes! If you don't run, I'll shoot you!" We ran as fast as we could and hid
in the rubble of homes that stood on either side of the street. This was
during a curfew hour when nobody was allowed to walk about in town, so we had
to wait until morning in order to leave our hiding place. We then walked to
the edge of the street - the place where we had originally decided to reunite
with Father.
Like this, because of my father's quick thinking, we were saved from
the fate that the rest of the Jews in the police building encountered. The
reason why this priest cared so much for my father was that my father, before
the war, was a political representative of the community and knew the priest
well. When the Soviets had invaded the area in September of 1939, they had
arrested the old priest, saying that he was engaged in anti-Communist
propaganda. Father had collected signatures from the local population and had
collected testimony that this priest was only involved in religious matters,
and, after a short time, the Soviets listened to the pleas of the town
residents and released the priest. At the time when our life was in danger, he
saved my father as well as the two of us.
After we met Father we started walking, not knowing where to go. After
walking for about an hour, we could hear shooting and agonized cries. We
immediately understood that these came from the Jews we had left at the police
station. We walked out of town traveling east. On the way, we entered the farm
of a gentile whom my father knew from before. This farmer took us to a small
bathhouse that stood at the edge of the field, and promised us to bring us
some food and drinks there. Father was very appreciative and promised to give
him some money in exchange for the food.
I was very suspicious because the farmer seemed too nervous and
excited upon seeing us. I followed him through a hole in the door of the
bathhouse, and I was shocked to see that he was returning with two policemen
toward where we were hiding. I informed father. He was totally exhausted from all that had
occurred the night before, but immediately, we escaped through another door on
the backside of the shack.
We walked for two days not knowing where exactly we were, and then my
father recognized the surrounding - he remembered that he used to come to
this area with my grandfather Reb Chaym Eliyahu - my mother's father. They
used to visit a Polish nobleman who lived nearby. The Polish nobleman had an
estate, part of which was a large orchard containing all kinds of superb
fruit. Grandfather used to buy wholesale from him and then take it by fright train to
Molodecno, where he would process the fruit.
We now entered the estate and approached the agricultural manager who
used to be a friend of my grandfather's. His name was Sologov; he was a
Russian man with a heart of gold and filled with pity. He hid the three of us
in the orchard and brought us food to last us some days. He brought also a map
and some extra food for a journey, suggesting that we walk to the town of
Kurenetz, where, he promised, we would have an easier time as Jews.
From Molodecno to Kurenetz
We walked to Kurenetz, which was about thirty kilometers away. We had
to cross a river on a raft. When we arrived to the edge of the river, we found
out that there were many farmers waiting there. We knew that it would be
very dangerous to approach them, so I put one of my scarves on my father's
head, and, alone, I went to one of the farmers and said, "Listen, my father is
burning with fever and I fear that he has typhus. Can you please transfer him
by boat to the other side of the river?"
The farmer became very nervous and said, "you should take him alone,
and then, when you've reached the other side of the river with the boat, give
it to a villager on the other side and he will return it to me. I don't want
to come with you because I'm too fearful of contagion."
So, we did what he suggested and this was really a very good trick
because the other farmers never saw my father up close and had no idea that we
were Jewish. After walking for a few more days, we arrived in Kurenetz. We
were very exhausted and hungry following the long walk. As evening came, we
entered the community home where we encountered Jews; some of them were
members of the Judenrat. Amongst them was also the rabbi of the town. Father
told them where we came from and all the horrors that we had experienced. The
rabbi then asked my Father not to give details of what had occurred because he
did not want the Jews to become too anxious. He said that our whole story
seemed exaggerated to him, anyway. I have to say that this was still the
beginning of November 1941 and most of the Jews of Kurenetz still lived in
their own homes. For some reason, a ghetto was never established there..
Relatively speaking, the town was untouched as compared to other towns in the
area where Germans had already killed the majority of the Jewish population
[editor's note: most of the Jews killed in Kurenetz at that point were
allegedly killed for being communist.]
One of the heads of the Kurenetz Judenrat - Chaim Zalman Gurevich -
took us in as guests at his home. His wife, Frieda, received us with much
warmth and liveliness, and took care of the two of us girls as if we
were close relatives. While the home itself was not wealthy, the people -
especially the mother - were incredibly kind-hearted. After some days there, I
was transferred to the home of the sister in law, Hanya Gurevich. She was a
very well-to-do widow with four children. I taught them some Russian and
cleaned her house in exchange for room and board. I lived in this house for
some months - all through winter 41/42. My sister stayed on with Chaim Zalman
My father was sent to work in Vileyka for the German SD. He worked for
the same murderers who were responsible for the actions in neighboring towns.
Some of them were SS men. Amongst them were Lithuanians and Latvians renowned
for their cruelty during the slaughter. Once in a while, my father received a
day off and returned to Kurenetz all beaten up by the SS people. I remember
one day arriving to the home of Chaim Zalman Gurevich after finding out that
my father was sick and had been tortured in Vileyka. All of a sudden, the door
opened, and a policeman by the name of Vlodka entered. He appeared “drunk as
Lot” and began searching the house. He found my father, lying in bed unable to
move, and started beating and cursing him. I came to the policeman and begged
him to leave him alone, saying that I would replace him at his work place. The
policeman ordered me to come near him and then began slapping my face and
hitting me on the head, screaming that he would kill not only my father but me
We were lucky that Chaim Zalman knew him since he was a little child,
and intervened on our behalf. He asked the policeman to stop torturing us and
motioned for me to immediately run through the window to save my life. I ran
Many months later, I suffered great pain and I lost my hearing in one
ear, but in spite of my bad condition I could not receive any medical help. We
lived in Kurenetz until the April of 1942.
By the Grace of a Christian Woman
One day, my father returned from Vileyka, and said that families could
now join the workers there. He transferred the two of us to the Vileyka
ghetto, named for Zinstag who was the head of this ghetto. In this ghetto
there were a few hundred Jews who had various professions. They came from
neighboring shtetls, and they were specially elected to work for the Gvidt
Komisar. Every morning they would leave the ghetto to go work and each evening
they collectively returned. I was sent to work as an assistant in the
cafeteria. Here, German officers would eat.
The head of this canteen was a Polish woman. She was a very
intelligent and educated woman with a good heart. I told her about all that
had occurred to us - how the priest from Moldecno saved us and all that
transpired after. A devout Christian, and she let me take some food from the
restaurant-canteen and bring it back to the ghetto with me. Eventually, my
physical situation improved and I had enough food to share with my little
sister Liuba and even my father. In contrast to our situation, the people who
came from Kurenetz were able to bring most of the belongings from their homes,
and even some food. Thus, these others were not as needy as us.
I worked at the canteen for a few months, but eventually I became sick
with pneumonia. I could not receive any medical help in the ghetto, so a
decision was made to put me on a stretcher and secretly deposit me next to the
municipal hospital in Vileyka during the night. In the morning, a nun who
worked as a nurse in this hospital came by and asked me in Polish what was
wrong with me. I told her what had happened to me and who I was, and begged
for her to save my life. I emphasized that already, many other Christians had
helped me - like the priest of Moldecno who had rescued our family from the
hands of the Germans. I begged her, as a good Christian, to not let me die and
to save me.
She looked at me and said, "ok, my child. I would not leave you in the
street. I will help as much as I can but you must not reveal your true
identity to anyone else in the hospital."
I was put in the pediatrics department of the hospital and they took care
of me. Only one young Russian female doctor was told the truth about who I
was, and she took care of me very dedicatedly. I shared a room with two
Christian girls. They wondered why nobody ever came to visit me, so I
explained that I was an orphan and there was nobody who cared enough to visit.
They were filled with pity and would share with me the food that they received
from their homes.
The only sign I saw from my father was left at night. He would put at
the entrance of the room where I stayed a little milk bottle that he received
by exchanging potato leftovers collected in the ghetto with a woman who lived
nearby. I stayed in the hospital for a full month and when my situation
improved, the nun came to me and said, "Look, my child. The Germans come to
this hospital once in a while to make sure that no Jews are hiding here. If
they suspect anyone of being a Jew, they immediately execute them. Your stay
in the hospital is now too dangerous; you must immediately leave, given that
your condition has improved." She kept saying, "you must go home and rest."
I said, "rest!? how can I rest? I must immediately work when I get
back to the ghetto."
"Nevertheless," she said, "we can keep you here no longer."
We said our goodbyes and I thanked her for all the help I had received
from her. The next evening, I joined the Jews coming back from work and got
back into the ghetto.
We stayed in that ghetto until July or August of 1942. One day, we
were ordered to transfer to another ghetto named for Schatz, who was the head
of the ghetto. This ghetto was near the offices of the Komissar, and my father
worked there as a locksmith. He started out as a locksmith as a young boy in
Warsaw, in a professional school at Gzdiovska 18. However, he had never worked
within this profession. When the Germans arrived, he now introduced himself as
a professional locksmith, and that is the sole reason we survived.
Together with other people with designated professions, we were
transferred to the other ghetto. Those not transferred where shortly
slaughtered. They were taken to large warehouses and locked there. The Nazis
surrounded the buildings with oil and lit it on fire; all the Jews inside were
burned alive. The next day, we were selected as part of a group of Jews from
the Schatz ghetto were made to collect the burned bodies and bury them. The
sight of the burned bodies caused us great shock and for many months we could
not overcome the horror.
In the Schatz ghetto, everyone had a profession. We, the young people,
went every morning to clean the offices of the officers, and to cut wood and
light the furnaces. Every day, I was able to find a German newspaper somewhere
to hide and bring back to the ghetto. Through these newspapers, we were able
to know where the German front at any given time was and to spread this news
from the ghetto to the war camp that contained Jews working for the TODT
organization. Most of these Jews were brought from Baranovic and its environs.
We stayed in the Schatz ghetto until the end of March 1943. Many of
the people in the ghetto were planning an escape to the forest, but since we
were newcomers to this area, we were not informed of these plans. As we later
found out, they were able to obtain weapons and had a contact, a Christian man
who would come to the ghetto and collect weapons from the Jews to transfer to
the partisans.
One day, this contact man was taken by a policeman and a great panic
ensued. The Jews who were planning an escape were sure that their plan was
discovered, so everyone started running in terror to the fence, trying to
escape. When my father found out, he ran from his work place and took the two
of us. We were able to run through a few Vileyka streets before entering the
home where we knew that a neighbor of ours from Molodecno lived. This was Mrs.
Sinkivich - she was a widow with two children, a very devout and pious
Christian. Before this, my father had met her in Vileyka and told the story of
how the priest had saved our lives. He had asked her whether she would offer
us temporary asylum if we ever escaped from the ghetto. She agreed, and now
she gave us shelter.
In her home lived a German officer who was the member of the SD, as
well as a local policeman. So Mrs. Sinkivic endangered not only her own life
but that of her children when she offered us shelter. The fate of the Jews was
similar to the fate of anyone who dared to give them shelter. In spite of all
of this, she hid us in the attic and the cow shed of her yard for three days
and nights. During the night she brought us food. She suggested that late in
the afternoon on Saturday, we leave the hideout, since the German offices
would then be closed, and most of the local residents would be indoors.
We did as she suggested. Before leaving, she gave each of us a loaf of
bread and a towel. Father walked first, and I walked a few steps behind him but on
the other side of the street. My sister Liuba walked about a hundred meters
behind my father. After we had walked for a few minutes, I saw from afar that
a young teenager who was about fifteen or sixteen years old had approached my
sister and started talking to her. He pulled her into a yard nearby. I
recognized this young man as a messenger who worked for the officers of the
Gvidt-Kommissar. He knew me very well. Father, who walked first, had no idea
of what had occurred behind him.
I did not know what to do. Even today, it is very hard for me to tell
this story. I couldn't imagine, at that point, that this was the last time I
would ever see my sister. At that point, I tried to think positively and
imagine that this teenager would only ask her a few questions and then let her
go, so I continued walking to the end of the street without stopping so as not
to arouse any suspicion. We did not wear our yellow tags, since at that point
there were no more Jews living in town. When I reached the end of the street,
I was supposed to meet my father there, but, to my great shock, I could not
find him.
I heard a train approaching, and, all of a sudden from my right came a
man who told me quickly in Russian, "Are you looking for the man in the green
suit? He is right across the tracks on the other side." At that moment, I
thought that he was a German collaborator who was looking to gauge my response
before informing the Germans about my escape. All I could think of was that I
should just commit suicide. I would throw myself under the train and my end
would come quickly, I thought.
While I was standing there for a few minutes looking at the man who
disappeared almost the same mysterious way in which he had first appeared, the
train passed by me, and, to my great relief, I saw my father standing on the
other side of the tracks in a field.* I crossed the track, came to my father
and told him what had occurred to Liuba. We both stood there crying, not
knowing what to do. We shortly concluded we had no place to return to.
Meanwhile, the sun set, and we started walking aimlessly, not knowing
where to go. We reached a few houses and we entered one of them. At this home
there were young men and women dressed in holiday clothes. They must have been
preparing for some celebration. They asked us who we were and what we wanted.
My father, at that moment, forgot all rules of discreet conduct, and started
telling them who we were, where we came from, where we were going, and that we
were looking for partisans. The young people suggested that we use a certain
road. They said we should go left in the direction of Luban, where there was a
factory We thanked them, left their house, and started walking down the road
they had suggested.
The shrubbery in the area was not very thick - only a few bushes grew,
and with the light of the moon, we were very conspicuous in this well-lit
area. After walking for half an hour we suddenly heard a loud conversation and
the sound of barking dogs. It sounded like the people were getting closer and
closer to us. We jumped into the bushes and hid underneath, practically not
breathing so that nobody would discover us. The group came near us and the
dogs barked loudly. We heard young people talking amongst themselves, "Where
did those bloody Jews disappear to? We saw them only a little while ago." To
explain it further I must describe our location: there were many frozen
puddles around us, and, because we had been walking on ice, perhaps our scent
was not strong enough to detect the human scent and know where we had walked.
We sat there, frozen in cold and fear, for hours, until all sounds of
voices were gone. Only then did we slowly come out of our hideout. We
immediately changed our direction and walked through one village after another
the entire night without cease. When it was almost morning, I suggested to my
father that I should go by myself to one of their homes and ask for some
bread. I knocked on a window and asked the farmer who came for a slice of
bread. Instead of answering me, he released his dog. The dog attacked me and I
quickly ran away.
We continued walking until we reached the river Ozilanka. We entered a
small bathhouse near the river. It was still warm here, as some villagers had
bathed there the night before. At this point, we were hungry and frozen. We
had not eaten all of Saturday, and the long walk had made us very tired.
Finally We Reach the Forest
We had stayed there for but a short time when all of a sudden we heard
the sound of a horse rider coming near us. We did not know who this person
was. Morning came and we left the bathhouse. The rider immediately saw us and
started yelling, "Stop! Who are you? Identify yourself!" He quickly took his
rifle out and aimed it at us. We had no choice but to stop, and we started
stuttering the story of how we had gotten there. He looked carefully at us and
was convinced that we were Jewish. Still, he continued with his interrogation,
asking who we knew in Vileyka and who else had been with us in the ghetto. I
whispered to my father that I thought he was a partisan. I was right, for a
few minutes later the man appeared convinced and introduced himself as a
partisan. My father became so excited that not only did he start hugging and
kissing the man, he also kissed the horse.
The partisan promised that if we followed him, he would bring us to
Schatz, the head of our camp in Vileyka, as well as Yona Riar from Ilja, who was
one of the organizers of the escape. We had mentioned both of these people in
our earlier account. After walking for about an hour, we reached some houses
at the edge of the village Zazirya. There we met the few other Jews who had
manage to survive the escape from the ghetto. Our meeting was very emotional.
We soon left these homes and went with them to the forest, where we
stayed with the family of Shalom Cheres from Kurenetz. From there, we transferred to
the big forest near the village Margih. In this forest, we met Chaim Zalman
Gurevich, who had built for his family a zimlanka, an outdoor hideout. After a
few days, perhaps on the 30th of April 1943, early in the morning, we heard
shots. One of the locals who was with us said that it must be the Germans who
had come to the forest to look for Jews and partisans hiding here. He
suggested that we quickly transfer to another wood near some marshes. We
stayed there the entire day, and when the shots subsided, we returned to our
original hiding place. Some days later, we learned that some of the local
villagers had brought the Germans directly to the zimlankas where the Jews
hid, and many of the Jews were killed by the grenades that Germans threw right
into the zimlankas. Entire families were killed that day. Women and children
were killed so near the end of a most difficult winter in the forest,
suffering cold and hunger. They had not lived to see the coming spring.
Since we were closely connected to the Gurevich family, who received
us with open arms in their hideous, as well as through our connections to the
local I mentioned before, many of the typical hardships that others who lived
in the forest faced were not a threat to us. We stayed there for about two
months, when my father learned that other Jews who were in the TODT labor camp
in Vileyka had escaped to the forest. Amongst them was Jacov, who we knew in
the ghetto of the Gvisk Komissar in Vileyka. He would often visit Yona Rier in
the ghetto, and during such visits he became the good friend of my father, for
the two were both from Warsaw and had both studied in the same locksmith's
school. Their ages were eighteen years apart. When they met, they had many
common memories of the town and their past lives.
Father now looked for Jacov for many hours. He finally found him and
amidst high emotions, they told each other what had transpired and how each
had escaped into the forest. Jacov also told how he was saved during the
German blockade in the forest. This took place in either the May or June of
1943. Young Jews in the forest started joining the partisans. I, together with
fifteen other young people, waited in the forest with Zazariya for an
opportunity to join the partisans. We would sit around the campfire and sing
songs in many languages until morning came. We were young, still filled with
hope; we had succeeded in escaping from our respective ghettos and shtetls,
now there were no more barbed wires surrounding us. Relatively speaking, we
were free to walk in the forest stretching hundreds of kilometers all around
us that had become our home. Obviously, there were shtetls that were the
German Grenz-Zonen and some towns had huge signs that declared them to be
Judenfrei, but still, it was easy to avoid these places and we felt free.
One day, we met Commandeer Podolini, who was from a partisan unit by
the name of Isterbitl, and he gave the young people a mission which I told
about in the chapter containing the memories of my husband Jacov, who has
passed away.
I was Received in the Otriad Nekama (Revenge)
After a short time in this forest, Jacov came by and put us in lines.
In pairs, we walked to the base called Otriad Nekama. He introduced me as a
medic, and I was accepted into the partisan unit without any objection on the
part of the heads of the base. In this base were two other medics - Mirka
Garber and Chayele Parus or Palaviski. Since the sanitary conditions in the
forest were very rudimentary, many of the young men suffered from severe skin
infections, and we had much work to do. We would use parachute fabric that we
received from the Soviets to make tourniquet's. We had very limited
pharmaceutical supply, but we were able to make do with crude replacements
such as primitive creams that we ourselves made. We were assisted by a
physician who was stationed in another partisan unit. He occasionally visited.
At the beginning of August, groups of young men began arriving from
the Vilna ghetto. Since I was fluent in Russian, I was asked to write exact
lists of everyone who had arrived, so that the headquarters would have
detailed information. One of the first groups that arrived from Vilna
contained Josef Glazman, and he was immediately appointed as one of the
commanders of the partisan unit. I spoke Hebrew with him, and he showed great
interest in the story of my father and I. A great friendship between us
developed. Jacov was transferred to a reconnaissance mission in the main
headquarters and left the otriad nekama base. Occasionally, he came to visit
but the mission that he was assigned was very complicated and took much of his
free time.
Our lives at the base continued without much change until September
1943. At some point between Rosh Hannah and Yom Kippur, Germans started
surrounding the forest with thousands of soldiers who settled in the village
nearby and started shelling the forest. The Germans were able to infiltrate
the partisan base. They came also to our base; we all retreated and together
with the wounded, we went to the marshes that he called Hab. These were very
watery and dangerous swamps; if one did not know the pathways through it well
one would certainly drown. At the head of our procession a young villager
walked who knew all the safe roads. We finally reached a little island where
we put down the stretchers with the wounded. After a short time the Germans
discovered us and starting shelling and shooting us from planes and artillery.
Many people were killed.
We stayed in the marshes for about ten days. During the day time, we
hid in haystacks. During the winter, when the marshes froze over, the local
farmers would leave haystacks in certain areas. All that we had to eat was
raw grains; one person had some dry beans that he shared with us. My father
was with me the entire time. Also with us was Moshe Schnitzer. After ten days
had passed, we decided that at midday we would cross the main road passing
through the villages. The reason we chose to cross the main road so
conspicuously was that we were sure that if we walked during the night we
would drown in the marshes.
When we reached the edge of the forest we saw a procession of
carriages filled with the belongings of the local villagers. Behind the
villagers and their carriages walked armed Germans. They were expelling the
villagers from their homes and burning their farms to the ground, saying that
the villagers had helped the partisans. Behind the procession, they had taken
herds of sheep and cows. We waited until the procession had passed before
crossing quickly. Nobody noticed us. Once on the other side of the road, we
ran to the forest, and one person who knew the area well showed us different
paths. Eventually, we too became familiar with this area.
Meanwhile, Moshe became very sick and developed high fever. He became
exhausted and could no longer walk. My father and I knew him and his parents
from Kurenetz. His mother had always been very kind to me and my sister, so we
know promised that we would not desert him but would stay with him until he
recovered. Father went to the fields and found a few potatoes, baking them in
a campfire we would in a partisan camp that had been left in a hurry. We fed
Moshe and waited until he was well enough to continue walking.
In Proizvodesviena Gropa
Eventually, we transferred to another forest, where we met people we
had known in Kurenetz. We now decided to check up on our old base. We found it
destroyed; the Germans had thrown grenades into all the bunkers. Amongst the
people who we knew in this base was a Jewish man by the name of Barken Rivesh.
As far as I remember, he was from the town of Postavy. Barken and his friend
Rivesh organized a work camp Proizvodesviena Gropa containing hundreds of Jews,
among them the brother Kadovizki from Branovic, their brother-in-law Kviat,
Buncheck, Kible, and Flant, the poet Sozkover and his wife Frida, Shmarke
Katzriginski, Yora Weklsler and his wife Nachama from Postav, the brothers
Schnizer, Cyahele and Simka Polovski, Yehiel Borgin, Moshe Kolchayim, Eifel
Dogka, Hirsh Gordin, the baker Abrasha, Doba, David Eugenfeld Kosko, my father
and I, and others whom I do not remember.
The partisans would bring us flour, and Abrasha the baker made bread
with his assistants. Slowly, we set up other services for the partisans. We
founded a place to sow clothes and hats, and a place to make sausages from the
meat we received. David Kosko was appointed the head of the sausage factory.
We used cow hides to make and repair boots and shoes, for these were in
greatest demand in the forest.
The head of our unit was an old Russian captain who was sent from the
headquarters to supervise. I was chosen to record in exact lists all the raw
material and finished products that our camp distributed to the partisans.
Once in a while, my boyfriend Jacov would visit me. He would stop on the way
back from partisan missions to visit us. Our base was a few dozen kilometers
away from his headquarters.
We lived here until July 1944. During the celebration of May 1st of
1944, Yehil Borgin, my father, and I, entertained with songs the entire
headquarters. One of the guests approached us after the performance and
suggested to Yechiel Borgin, my father, and I, to join an entertainment troupe
that was established near the headquarters.
The three of us left the camp and joined the troupe of partisans. This
group contained people of many nationalities, among them Armenians, Polish-
Russians, Georgians, and us - the three Jews. Each evening, we would perform
for various partisan units our songs, dances, and poetry. We were always
received very warmly, and the people who were above us thought that our job
was very important, since we improved the morale of the fighters. The name of
our troupe was Hupser Smikum. Once in a while, we performed for those
villagers under control of the partisans. Often, we had to carry weapons when
traveling to locations far from the base. Many times, we perform under the
protection of a guardian partisan unit.
In the months of July and August 1944, the area was liberated. We
continued to travel with the entertainment troupe from village to village and
from town to town. Jacov now found himself in the town called Ostorovic, and
from there he wrote me letters saying I should leave the troupe and join him.
But I could not do it - I felt myself to be part of a military unit, and the
war was not over yet. The troupe threatened that if I left, I would receive a
military trial. I continued performing until the end of 1944.
Finally, in December, I found an appropriate excuse and left the
entertainment troupe. That entire night, I traveled as a passenger in a
freight train filled with ammunition traveling to the western front. We
finally arrived to the Grodki train station, from where I walked by food to
the town of Jacov. I surprised Jacov by my sudden appearance and he was very
emotional. Days passed and I did not return. Father had to give all kinds of
excuses for my delayed return. In the end, they gave up and did not put me to
Father stayed with the troupe until the middle of 1945 before joining
us. As I conclude my story, I must talk about my dear father who, with his
quick wit, saved me from every trial and misfortune that we encountered.
Because of his dedication and his intelligence, we survived the dangers that
awaited us ever step we took. In the spring of 1945, before we left the Soviet
Union, Jacov and I were married. We left to go to Poland, where we lived for
several years. We had to say there because I became sick and we had to wait it
out for a few years until I recovered enough to go to the land of Israel.
From early childhood, I had received a Zionist education, and during
all the troubles I experienced, I unfailingly dreamed of immigration to the
land of Israel. Finally, in the year 1950, when Israel was already
established, we joined the mass immigration there. Here we built our home and
raised our children. Jacov and I told our sons details of our past. We “lived” the passage from the Passover Hagadah; tell your sons……..,
, “In each generation, there are those who rise to
annihilate us, and God in heaven saves us from their wrath each time.”
When my father retired, he dedicated his life to public volunteer
work. Shortly before passing away, he received a commendation from the Mayor
of Haifa as an outstanding retiree. Among other achievements, he established
and extensive library containing books in several languages. This library is
located in the home for the retired in Kiryat Ata. He was very involved in
many activities in this home. His love for others, particularly those who were
needy, had no limits. His dedication to each person he encountered gave him
comfort and gave him spiritual strength during his last days. Father reached
old age and passed away after a short illness at eighty-one. May his memory be
*Many years passed and I later learned from my husband Jacov that this Russian
man was his friend, a contact working for the Partisans by the name of Petya.
He lived in a nearby area.