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Frida Skorochod
From the Yizkor book for Minsk page 387
Grenades without Detonators
Freda was born in Minsk in 1928. She immigrated to Israel in 1949. She was a resident of Tel Aviv.
Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan and Rehan

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 teacher’s 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 Judenrat.

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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 of them.

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 didn’t 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.
Our guards were of Ukrainian descent. The head commander was German and the nurses were Latvian and could speak Russian. The nurses were very cruel to us. We started noticing that there was a bathroom that was always kept locked. Since the walls that separated the bathrooms didn’t reach the ceilings, my brother lifted me. I saw that the tub in this bathroom was filled with weapons. It was weapons of Ukrainian guards. This occurred in May of 1943. At this point only about 5000 Jews survived and we knew that our end is coming soon. We found that the Germans suffered defeat near Stalingrad. Some had a secret radio in the ghetto and they would let us know the news from the front.
Soviet airplanes started bombing Minsk. This caused great excitement and started raising our spirits. During the night we would go outside to wait for the bombs to fall. We were almost hoping that we would be killed by our bombs rather than be killed by the most hated Germans. During the last month of 1942 we found out about the resistance in the forest but we didn’t know how to research them. Smika, the youngest brother of Tania, escaped from the ghetto to get to the partisans. Before he left he promised that he would return to the ghetto to get us out. But we never heard from him again.

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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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.
The plan was the Jurka would come there at noon and my brother would walk some steps behind Jurka to a certain distance. Incase one of them was suspected no one would know that they are connected to each other. We decided to use the opportunity while the Ukrainian soldiers were drunk to steel some weapons. So my brother lifted me to the bathroom with weapons and I filled a sack with automatics guns, bullets and some grenades. We hid the sack in one of the broken buildings and hid for the next day. We were very fearful that the Ukrainians would discover the weapons. The next morning we all arrived to work as usual.

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 didn’t 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 couldn’t 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 don’t use any one the main roads or enter of the villages. With the weapons you have I’m sure the partisans will accept you happily, but don’t let anyone take they weapons away from you before you reach the partisan headquarters.”
We had with us two hundred grams of bread for each persona and a few potatoes. We walked through the forest and didn’t encounter any partisans. We had no more food and became very hungry so we entered one of the villages and asked on of the gentile women for food and she gave us a few potatoes and point in the direction where we could find partisans. We walked in the forest for three days and received food from gentile people.

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;
“How do we know that you really want to fight the Germans. You might be spies”. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. What Jew would risk his live for the murder of his people? At night we arranged for guards. Every two hours there would be another guard. But the girls didn’t take part in the guarding. When Motka was done with his guarding the partisan who replaced him asked him for his automatic weapon. The next morning the weapon disappeared. When we asked for the weapons we were told the commander took it to the headquarters. They said to us that we shouldn’t worry and that we would receive the weapons when we got to the headquarters. They gave two people to take us to the headquarters. After we walked for a short time in the forest the two people said to us “Take your shoes off”.

We said to them “listen guys our live is worth nothing. We didn’t 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.
We entered the village and found other partisans and amongst them the Jew Hirsh Smaller. They received us very warmly and after we told them the story of our troubles with the partisans they made us feel better and Hirsh smaller ordered one of the partisans to take us to the brigade by the name of Prehemenko where we would encounter many Jewish resistance members. Smaller was the commissar of the brigade of Smiliof. Before we left he asked us many questions about what had occurred in the ghetto. When we showed him our weapons he started laughing loudly when he looked at the grenades. He said “they have no pins and they are useless. But they still did their job. On the other hand your bullets are worth gold”

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.
Our camp was situated about 30 kilometers away from Minsk. Occasionally, Jews who escaped from Minsk arrived, some of them with children. The older children were sent to go back to the ghetto and bring people out with them. They used children, firstly because they were very brave, and they aroused less suspicion. Once the children reached the ghetto with the help of the Jewish police, they would take Jewish people out of the ghetto.

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 didn’t 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 situation.

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.
Zorin, who was a very energetic man, realized that people must have something to occupy themselves with. So he established small workshops like a flourmill, shoemaker and a hospital that was staffed with doctors from Minsk. Also there was a workshop for repairing weapons and making bombs. There was a small factory for processed meat and a tailors shop. Now each person in the camp had a job. The products that were made were used for the entire resistance movement.

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.