|Minsk Home Page|
|Minsk Stories Menu|
Minsk was a Jewish town.
Yiddish was heard both at home and in the street. We received secular
education, not a Jewish one, but still we knew something about Jewish
history and culture. Most Jews gave their children some knowledge about
it. There were secular schools in Minsk where Yiddish was the medium
of instruction. There was also a teachers seminary that taught
in Yiddish. In 1941 as the war started, most of the Belarusian population
disliked the Germans and the members of the communist party were very
disillusioned with the Nazi occupation. But still there was part of
the population that was happy with the occupiers, but since that they
did not know if this occupation is permanent they didnt show satisfaction
with the occupation. Even among the Jews during the first days the opinions
were varied. Most of the youth who grew up in communist Minsk hated
the Germans, seeing them as fascists, but the older generation who remembered
the days of the German occupation in the year 1918, were certain that
the Germans were intelligent, hard workers and a wonderful nation.
We did not have to argue
long. Troubles for the Jews immediately occurred. By the end of July
1941, Jews were rounded up in a ghetto. Our home was in the area that
was designated for the ghetto so we didnt have to move. Originally
we had food, since the food storage warehouses of the soviets were pillaged
as soon as the Germans occupied Minsk. Eventually all the food was eaten.
As soon as the ghetto was established we were told to put a yellow tag
on both the front and the back of our clothes, ten centimeters in diameter.
Later on they made us put the number of our home under the yellow tag
(for collective punishment if we escaped). One day the German military
arrived and went from one home to the next gathering men from age 16-60.
Some men were able to escape and hide. When the Germans had the right
number they took them away. Most of them were never seen again. My father
was saved by coincidence. A German officer announced that he needed
a plasterer; my father lied and said that he was a plasterer. The German
officer ordered him to take two assistants and follow him He brought
them to a suburb of Minsk and ordered them to clean a certain home.
After he had done that he gave them some food and returned them to the
ghetto the next day. Shortly after that the Germans ordered the Jews
to take part in forced labor. In order to do that they established the
The Judenrat announced the
written orders of the Germans in Russian. All the labor troops would
leave from the square near the Judenrat building. At the time I was
twelve years old and I took part in the forced labor. I worked in the
warehouses that contained oil. Our particular job was to dig with shovels
and bring the mud inside in the wheelbarrow to the other side of the
road. This was a very difficult job. The Germans would guard us and
once in a while would beat us whit a whip. We received food only at
work once a day. We received soup and 280 grams of bread. The people
who didnt take part in the forced labor did not receive any rations.
I would save some of my bread and bring it to my sister and grandmother.
We drew water from the wells
and there was not electricity in the winter. In order to worm ourselves
in the ghetto, during the afternoon break at work we would pick wood
from destroyed buildings. We would leave for work at seven in the morning
and return to the ghetto at six in the evening. It was very difficult
for us to sustain our selves with such a small amount of food while
participating in such hard labor, so we supplemented our food ration
bye exchanging our possessions.
Gentile women would come
to the surrounding buildings where we worked and exchange food that
they brought with them for clothes and dishes. If the German caught
us exchanging our possessions for food they would confiscate all the
items and would beat all of us mercilessly, including the Gentile women.
I took part in all sorts
of jobs. One time I worked with my mother in a hardware building that
contained weapons. It contained huge shells that we were ordered to
clean and oil. Both men and women worked there. A German commander lied
and said we stole weapons. This was really impossible because the shells
were very heavy and we could not fit them in our baskets. Still they
lined us and every fifth person was taken and killed altogether
twenty people were killed.
After some time, with them
help of a Jewish policeman that we knew, we were sent to work in a potato
storage building. This was a much desired work place. Here we had to
select the better quality potatoes for the German kitchen. We were allowed
to take the rotten potatoes with us. Father was also allowed to take
the potatoes peels form his work place. We would clean and grind them
and make latkes which had a bitter taste. We shared the
food with old people who didnt work. Amongst these people was
an acquaintance who was a musician. I would always bring him something
to eat from work. Despite the fact that we always suffered from hunger,
we always shared our food with others. Someone suggested that certain
grass was edible, so we started collecting grass and making soup out
The first massacre occurred
on November 2nd 1942 and lasted three days. More than 10,000 Jews were
killed. They were taken to area where there were open graves and were
shot and fell in the graves. Some of them were not killed and only wounded
and because of the fact that during the first days the Germans did not
cover the graves, they were able to get out form under the piles of
bodies and return to the ghetto. The Jews were ordered to collect contributions
and give them to the Germans. These contributions were usually of silver
or gold or whatever the Germans needed. It was the job of the Jewish
police to collect the contributions. Some of them would come and plead
with the Jews of the ghetto to share the possessions in order to save
the lives of the ghetto residents. Other police would yell and force
the people to give them money and gold. The Judenrat members announced
that the Germans threatened them that if the contributions would not
arrive at the given time they would murder 20,000 Jews. So they would
collect the needed amount.
After the November massacre
the diameter of the ghetto was decreased and a barbed wire was put around
it. Despite the fact the Germans guarded the ghetto it was not difficult
to escape. At certain intervals the Germans would enter the booths to
eat and they left the guarding to the Jewish police and they would let
us pass. But we did not escape to the Aryan size because the had no
place to run. The Russian people were afraid to hide Jews in their homes
since anyone who was caught hiding Jews in their home received the death
penalty. Also everyone was fearful of informers. Of the women I know
who escaped to the Aryan side; there was not one who survived.
During the massacre that
occurred on February 2nd 1942, my mother was murdered. There was an
orphanage in the ghetto and there were mass killings and all the children
in the ghetto were killed. During such an action that occurred July
28th 1942, my younger sister who didnt take part in the forced
labor was murdered. Between the different mass actions there were individual
murders. The Germans would arrive and kill all the residents of a particular
home. After a German officer was killed by the resistance in town, the
Germans came to the ghetto and arbitrarily filled five trucks with Jews
to full capacity and murdered them all.
After the massacres on March
2nd 1942 and on March 20th 1943, as the number of Jews decreased our
situation improves since we received more food. I worked together with
my older brother who was two years older than I. His friend Metya who
15 and a girl named Tanya who was 19. We worked in a hospital that was
designated for German soldiers who were wounded. Near the hospital there
was a farm with chickens ducks and pigs. Our job was to feed and clean
the pigs as well as to warm water for the patients and clean the bathrooms.
On the 25th May 1943 a gentile
friend of my brother, a Russian man by the name of Jurka who attended
the same school as my brother, came to ghetto and told him
You must leave they
intend to liquidate the ghetto.
My brother said to him that
he didnt know where to go. He said that he will come the next
day at noon time and take him to the partisans in the forest. My brother
asked him to let me join, but Jurka didnt want to take me. He
said I looked Jewish and I would endanger the escape. My brother refused
to go alone so I offered Jurka that my brother would bring some weapon
with him. Jurka was very happy that we had access to weapons.
Jurka arrived exactly at
noon, the time our guards went to eat. We escaped and gathered the weapons
we hid and divided them amongst ourselves. Each took two grenades. Tanya
took the automatic weapons and I took the bullets in a basket. We changed
clothes and put clothes that didnt have yellow tags and went on
our way. Jurka went in front of us and at some distance walked Motke.
Tanya and I walked together busy in discussion. In the road we met some
Germans but they did not stop us. They couldnt imagine any Jew
would dare to go to the street in the middle of the day. We all agreed
amongst us that if the Germans will stop us we will blow ourselves together
with the Germans using our grenades. We arrived at the outskirts of
the town. There were German guards at this place but they were sitting
in their barracks eating lunch and at this point no one stopped us.
We left the town and this
was the first time that Jurka turned around. When he turned around he
saw that four Jews are following him. He said to us If I knew
that all of you were following me I would have never risked my life.
He pointed the direction we should go in and said once you reach
this location you will meet many partisans but dont use any one
the main roads or enter of the villages. With the weapons you have Im
sure the partisans will accept you happily, but dont let anyone
take they weapons away from you before you reach the partisan headquarters.
Finally we heard some voices
in forest and we saw a house where a small group of people riding horses
arrived. On their heads they had red stars. We came to them and they
received us happily. We told them that we had escaped from the ghetto
and that we wanted to take revenge on the evil Germans. When they saw
Tanya and me they said they would not take any girls to the partisans.
My brother said that he is not going to separate from me. So they said
that they would talk to the commander about us.
When they saw our automatic
weapons, their eyes lit up. We did not tell them that we had bullets
and grenades. They said to us;
We said to them listen
guys our live is worth nothing. We didnt just come to the forest
to survive, we came to fight the Germans and we can start the revenge
with you We took out the grenades. They became scared and said
that they were only kidding. They said we received an order to
kill you but we are just going to leave you here. But you must be careful
of partisans since they have no use for women and they might kill you
all. After they left we decided to go to the nearby village and
incase we would encounter Germans there we would throw grenades and
fight to our death.
He exchanged all the ammunition.
We received two riffles and thirty bullets. We left and arrived in the
camp of Parchomenko where we were received very warmly. Many of the
members of this unit were Minsk residents who escaped to the forest.
The four of us were members
of the same unit. We took part in missions and also guarded the camps.
As time passed our numbers increased and we were more than 200 people.
Since our location was near Minsk we didnt stay in one place for
more than five days for safety reasons. This forest was relatively small
and it became very dangerous to the unit that contained dozens of non-fighters,
both old people and children and became vulnerable to German blockades.
Shalom Zorin came to the headquarters and suggested that he would transfer
the children, women and the old men to the forest of Naliboky. He said
he needed fifteen young men with weapons to make it safer for the transfer.
He gathered 120 people. I was amongst them. I had to say goodbye to
my brother who refused to enter a family camp and wanted to continue
resistance activity as a fighter. We left by foot. On the road the men
would enter the villages and bring food for us, bread, baked potatoes
and beans. The difficult journey lasted seven days. We walked only at
night. Rain was pouring.
After 150 kilometers we arrived
at the forest of Naliboky. They choose an isolated place to establish
the camp. We were told to make tents out of branches of fir trees. We
were divided into four groups we would have an assembly and we would
be assigned to different missions. The main job was to look for food
and some times the men were able to get sacks of potatoes and flour
from the villages. I, as a fifteen years old, guarded the camp from
the inside. We had a common dining room. We were able to get some pots
from the villages and for plates we used empty cans. Everyone who was
able receive food had to give it to the common kitchen and the entire
supply was collective and Zorin would divide it amongst the people.
Zorin was very involved among the people and knew everyone personally.
He would walk around the camp and ask each person about their particular
More and more people arrived
from the ghetto. After they escaped they usually arrived in the Pachaminko
camp and once they contained twenty to thirty people the Pachaminko
people would transfer them to us in forest of Nalibokie. One day we
received a group of one hundred people! As time passed our economic
situation improved particularly in the season of the potatoes gathering
season. We were able to receive some cows; we also got supplies of meat.
During the harvest season we received a large amount of wet wheat, which
we dried on the fire and made into flour. Now we had time to improve
our living conditions. Each division dug themselves a large hole in
the ground, 3 meters deep. The ceilings were made of wood logs and they
were covered by dirt but they had openings to get the smoke out. Inside
they built wooden sleeping areas. We all slept in our clothes. We never
took them of because we wanted to be ready for whatever came our way.
A school for the children was established as well as some cultural activities for the adults, musical gatherings and adult education. Our sprits greatly improved and for the first time since the beginning of the war we felt that we were no longer parasites eating bread that was handed out.