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Page 371 of the Minsk Yizkor Book
Not for a Medal of Valor
Yochevet nee Rovenchik Eiberman 
Yochevet Eiberman, an offspring of the Rovenchik family, was born in Minsk in 1926. She immigrated to Israel in 1968 and lives in Petach Tivka. This is from an interview by David Cohen.
Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan 
I was born in Minsk in 1926, as the oldest of 7 children. We were raised in a home filled with Yiddish culture. We spoke Yiddish, we studied Yiddish, and the whole alley where we lived was populated by Jewish families. When I reached school age I was sent to the Yiddish School #30. There we studied all subjects in Yiddish. My teacher was Fanya Kaplan. During the 30s, the economic situation in the area was very bad, and many times we received a meal in school. After three years, the Yiddish school was closed, and all the kids moved to Russian Public School #12. This transfer was a great shock to me. I was accustomed to the Jewish environs and the more confined Yiddish culture, and all of a sudden, I found myself in a school where all the subjects were taught in Russian, and where the students were of divers nationalities.
Like this we continued until 1939. As the war started, my father was conscripted to the Soviet army and our mother stayed alone with the seven children, and I, as the oldest, had to contribute to our financial situations, so I bought and sold textiles and received some money for doing that.
We knew little about the political situation of the Jews in the world. We only knew that we were unique among the many nationalities of the Soviet people. In 1939, Jewish refugees started coming from Poland. From them we heard about the Anti-Semitism in Poland. The unfavorable treatment came from both , the German occupiers and the Polish population. We in the Soviet Union couldn’t imagine that such a thing could occur.
On the 22nd of June, 1941, Germany attacked Russia. Immediately there were explosions and some German scouts parachuted in Minsk. Evacuations started. The first to run away was the police , followed by the military, followed by the Soviet authorities. Each group blamed the other for treason. There was total pandemonium. There were even some anti-Soviet citizens who waited impatiently to be saved by the Germans, but most of the population found themselves helpless, with no assistance or instructions from the authorities. We all wanted to escape, but we didn’t know where to go. On the 27th of June, 1941, the German Army entered Minsk, and immediately they started confiscating things and pillaging the place. The Soviet citizens started bringing carriages filled with food supplies and other goods from the storage areas of the Soviet authorities.
At first the Jews stood away and looked, but eventually the Jews started getting food from the storage buildings and hid it in their homes. Soon after, the procession of the Red Army POWs began to pass through the town. They were in tattered uniforms, exhausted and depressed. They were made to march for many kilometers. The local population wanted to give them water or bread, but the Germans would open fire with their automatic weapons on any POWs who begged for food. The road littered with their bodies. They were taken to a camp outside the town. This camp was used as a summer camp for the Belarussian Soviet authorities before the war. It was situated next to the river in a large yard surrounded by barbed wire. The Germans built tall watchtowers and guarded the POWs who lay under the open sky. After some days, the Germans ordered all the male residents of Minsk (age 15-55) to come to the area. People sat there, crouching. If anyone stood up, the Germans opened fire. They didn’t give them any food or water. This was during the summer, and the sun was very hot. When people tried to crawl and reach the river to quench their thirst, the Germans would shoot at them. It seemed like you heard more shots here than during the entire time when the town was conquered.
A short time after all the men arrived, the Germans announced that all the “Folksdeutsche” among the men should separate. They were mostly Germans from the Volga, and Germans who had settled in Belarus. Their eyes lit up with happiness. They waited many years for such a day. The Jews were also told to go to one area, and here on this occasion you could see the unkind spirit of many of the non- Jews. The same POWs that the Jews gave water to without regard for whether they were Jews or Christians, now tried to take away from the Jews their shoes or their clothes, or the little food that they received from their families. Soon the rest of the population realized they could get away with doing anything to the Jews.
All the Jewish men were transferred to the prison in town. On the way there were some Jews who tried to escape, and they were immediately shot. After a few days, the prisoners were released and sent to a ghetto. There were some Belarussian neighbors that pressed the Jews to enter the ghetto. They said, “You are a Jew and your place is in the ghetto.”
There were even some Christian men who married Jewish women who told their wives to go to the ghetto. There were such incidents with Tatars and Belarussians. Sometimes the children would cry and say, “Where are you sending mother?” And the Christian mother-in-law would explain, “This is the way it should be.” But still there were cases of Christians who hid their Jewish wives.
There were some incidents of torture, and the Jews started walking around without a glint of hope. They were all put in the ghetto. In each apartment, about 20 to 30 souls. People slept on pieces of wood, one on top of the other. There was very little water and it was extremely filthy. The Germans would take us to work outside of the ghetto, and we all started thinking that we should escape, but where? Who could we make contact with? Who would help us? We started exchanging clothes and other possessions for food with the Christians. Eventually there was a transfer of Jews from Germany, and they were put in a special ghetto that was named the Hamburg Ghetto, since the first to arrive were from Hamburg. Eventually their situation became very bad, and they began to starve, so they asked us Jews from Russia if we could exchange their possessions for food. They didn’t speak Russian and could not communicate with the Christian population. So now we became the go-betweens, and in exchange for our services, they gave us some of the food.
The murders started in the home of my uncle. Some Germans broke in at night and killed 13 souls. They broke the windows and entered. My aunt was feeding the children when the Germans arrived. Her oldest daughter, Chaia, who was 23, was standing there with her baby in her arms. As soon as they arrived, the Germans pulled the baby out of her arms and gave it to the grandmother. They pulled Chaia to the other room, from where she screamed, “Daddy! Daddy!” But the father stood helplessly, surrounded by Germans with drawn weapons. The other Germans raped her and cut her breasts off, then shot her. They did the same to the second sister. A brother tried to escape, and they shot him in his back, and he was left stuck in the window, half inside, half outside. My uncle tried to block one of the Germans, and they shot him. Hinda, who was 9 years old, stood next to him. He caught her and fell on her, protecting her with his body. His blood spilled all over both of them on the floor, and like this they stayed. He was dead and she was alive. Hinda’s mother was holding both her own baby and her granddaughter, the child of Chaia, when they shot her and killed both of the children. Her younger daughter, Deena, who was 12, was very brave. She started yelling to the Germans, “Murderers!” as she threw everything she could gather, plates and pots and pans, but they also tortured her and killed her.
After the Germans left, Hinda gave some water to her wounded brother, but the water that she gave him spilled out from his stomach together with his blood. He had been hit by nine bullets.
When we entered the apartment the next morning, it was the most torturous sight. I can hardly describe it. We cleaned the bodies and brought them to the Jewish cemetery. One of the rebbetzim (rabbi’s wife) put locks on the coffins, and took the keys with her to symbolize that death would not reign anymore. But before this ceremony was over, the Germans and their Russian collaborators started shooting, and people said to the rebbetzin, “What stories are you telling us about help from God? It’s all fairy tales. Our blood is free for all.”
Like this they continued killing entire families in the ghetto. One day the Germans took 16 young women who thought that they were going to work and brought them to the ghetto, where they were shot in the back. 16 beautiful girls fell in one line. Germans entered the home of the Koversky family in Novo Krasne Street, near the Anniversary Square. They ordered the two young girls to dance naked. One was ordered to dance on the table, the other to dance under the table. The mother was lying there, shot in her neck. On the floor were two brothers, one 7 and one 12. Like this the murders continued. There were also some general mass killings, and some were only a few dozen. After each mass killing, the Germans would gather all the surviving Jews with the help of the Judenrat, and announce that from now on, there would be no more killings. Like this they tried to fool the Jews who so wanted to believe them.
What else should I talk about? How a German slapped me, and his dog started biting the skin on my back for his pleasure? How another German kicked me with his shoes that had nails and I lay there, curled up and dripping with blood until my mother held to his legs and did not let go until people came and took me away? He shot at me, but instead he killed my friend. Should I tell you how another German beat me with a piece of wood until the wood broke? How a Christian man would catch me and beat me for no particular reason?
Big and spread out is the land of Belarus, but it seemed that there was not one bush, one tree, one rock or one hole in the ground that gave us shelter. We were like pariahs, like excrement on the ground. I worked in the brick factory, by the ovens. There was a German by the name Vas Fritz (?). He thought that I was clever and decided to do business with me. He stole a large silk curtain from the theater and cut it into small pieces. We sold the material for dresses, and we divided the money between us. One day he was caught by the partisans and I never saw him again. After him came another German. I, together with a much older woman, would carry in a stretcher two sacks of cement weighing about 100 kg, and when we returned, we would carry the bricks from the oven. This was a true hard labor, and we worked very slowly. The German who guarded us didn’t like our pace, so he pushed me in my back while I was carrying the stretcher that was filled with bricks. I fell forward, and the woman who was carrying it in front fell with all the bricks on top of her. Both of us were badly wounded. I stood up and took my shoe off and started hitting the German mercilessly, and I immediately ran away.
I hid in the home of a Christian woman. Meanwhile, the German announced to the other people that I could return to work and he would not punish me. So I did, and he kept his word.
On the 28th of June, 1942, I went to work in the brick factory with my young brother. My father and my older brother also went to their place of work. At home stayed my mother with four children. Just a few days before, we were able to collect some potato skins from the Germans’ garbage, and mother was busy making latkes for the children. It was about 10 in the morning. All of a sudden, the guards came to take all the Jews who were left in the ghetto to the Judenrat building, claiming that they must exchange their yellow tags with new tags. Mother took the six-month-old baby in her arms and ran to our old apartment, where we had a hideout. She ran ahead, and behind her ran the other children. But the Germans caught the children, and took them to the Judenrat. Mother didn’t see it. She waited for the children, but they didn’t arrive.
Soon the Jews realized that it was a mass action, and everyone started to run to their hideouts. No one agreed to take the baby to any hideout, fearing that she would cry and betray their hiding place. My grandmother was there with a two-and-a-half-year-old child by the name of Grunia, and other cousins of mine and relatives. There was very little water and Grunia kept telling Grandmother, “I want to drink, I want to drink.” When she kept insisting, they gave her urine, but the child said, “No, this is salty, it’s no good.”
There was a rebbetzin there and she said, “According to the Torah, you cannot sacrifice many for one young child.” So they put a pillow on the child’s face until she expired. Five days they stayed in this hideout. Mother was out of the hideout and her baby was killed. The only thing that was left of her was the scarf she was covered with that became saturated with her blood.
Grandmother came out of the hideout spiritually broken. Everyone thought that she had lost her mind from grief, but she really didn’t lose her mind. She just lay in her bed and refused to eat. During that day, we were taken to the ghetto and we were sure that they would kill us. I said to my young brother Hirsheleh, “Jump out of the truck and go tell mother where we were killed. You must run and survive.” But he refused to go without me, so I pushed him with my foot off the truck. From that day I never saw him again.
When we arrived to the ghetto, the pogrom was still going on. The windows of our house were broken and the containers of pillows were in the air. The German guards near the gate asked our guards, “Who are these people?”
He said, “They are workers.”
And they said, “Well, if they are workers then we won’t kill them. You must take them to sleep in Kenser Kaverna (Panser Kaverna?).”
Even the German guard who took us was shaking from fear. Just to talk to the SS people made him very nervous. He took us on out of the way roads. We went around the cemeteries and we saw a deep ditch, two meters wide and eight meters long. Next to it stood soldiers in Lithuanian uniforms, next to machine guns. The ditch was already filled with bodies, and the Lithuanians waited for the next group. When we got to the Kenser Kaverna (army barrack), we were put outside by the dumpster. We collected the leftovers of the Germans and ate the bones that the Germans threw to the trash. Like this we were held for five days without any food.
In the morning we went to work, and in the evening we went back to the barracks. On the fifth day that they took us to work via Republic Street, to the cemetery. Rain was falling and the blood of people was running in the gutters. Together with us in the factory there was a Russian worker by the name of Natasha, and she said to me, “Why are you returning to the ghetto? Don’t you see that they are killing you there?”
When I returned to the ghetto I said to my surviving family members, “Let’s run. Even if they kill us on the road, at least we will have made an attempt to escape. What else is there for us to wait for? The children are killed, do we have to wait for us to be killed?”
Father said, “Anyway, where ever we go, they will kill us wherever we go, so where should we run? Who is going to help us? Why do we have to look for death in far away places if it will arrive to us in the ghetto?”
Father refused to leave the ghetto and my mother listened to him. But I couldn’t rest. I was determined to escape, to run away and to fight for my life. I left a few times and returned until one day I convinced my friend Fannie to join me. I had to trick her. I told her that her boyfriend was unfaithful. I was able to convince her and she agreed to join me. We left on the 2nd of March, 1943. We walked through the snow, in the direction of Storyo Selo. I had never been on this road before. On the way, we encountered some Germans, but they didn’t stop us. They couldn’t imagine that we were Jews.
When we reached the village, we knocked on the door of a relative of Natasha’s and told her that Natasha had sent us. She answered us very angrily, “Why did you come here with you Jewish faces?” She kicked us out, she was scared of the Christian neighbors and the Germans who were crawling all over the place. We sat by the river near the station and cried over our bitter fate. Why were we born Jewish? Why are we so inferior to all other people on earth? We tried to look for a shelter, but no one wanted to take us in.
Darkness came. We heard steps and the sound of a weapon. We didn’t know who was coming, a German or Belarussian policeman, or a partisan. We talked amongst ourselves, and I decided to lie on the ground. Fannie, who spoke Russian with no accent, should call out to that person. When he came near, if he was a German I would catch him by his leg, and she would catch his weapon. When the man came near us and greeted us, Fannie told him that we were refugees and that we came to exchange clothes for food. He said, “No, you are Jews.” But she insisted that we were Russian and asked him, “Who are you?”
He said, “I am a Red Partisan.”
“If that is the case, then please take us with you. You are right, we are Jewish and we have nothing to lose. And we will not let you go, and if you refuse to take us, kill us on this spot. There is no place for us to go.”
He was an older man from Storyo Selo. He let us enter his home and he fed us. We quenched our thirst, and later at night he promised to take us to the partisans.
He did bring us to Tzvisorzina, where there were partisan camps. But women were not accepted into the partisans. The assistant of the commander of the partisan unit said that if Fannie would agree to be the wife of the commander, they would accept us, but Fannie refused and we were not accepted.
The original partisan who brought us tried to console us and said, “Girls, don’t worry. I will find a way to save you.” But he couldn’t find any Jews, and the Christian wife at first refused to let us stay. So we left. I suggested to Fannie to take the scarf that was covered with the blood of my little sister, and hang it to a tree branch where we would both hang ourselves. But she refused to commit suicide. She wanted to return to the ghetto and bring back her boyfriend. But I refused to go to the ghetto, and she refused to commit suicide. So we kept arguing. Finally I said, “Let’s try to ask the Christian woman to let us stay there for another night.” The Christian woman agreed and we lay down by the furnace and slept. Actually, at night we didn’t sleep, and in the daytime we pretended to sleep so she would not kick us out.
Finally, that evening, two young Jewish men came by on a carriage. One of them, Lapidot, was the commander of a unit, and Fannie knew him since he was a friend of her brother. Before he saw us he was whispering to the Christian woman who thought he was Christian, “Where are those Jews that I heard were hiding here?”
Fannie came off the furnace and started hugging and kissing him. We were filthy and our eyes were red and puffy from crying, Lapidot said, “Go wash yourself first and then kiss me.”
We ate something, got in his carriage, and left. He took us to the partisans. The commander of this partisan unit was Nachum Feldman. As we found out, the Christian partisans got in touch with Feldman and told him about us, and Feldman sent two men to bring us to him. They prepared a table filled with food. With cries we told them all that happened in the ghetto, and they cried with us. From there we transferred to the everglade of Belovyet. Feldman was not allowed to include women in his partisan unit, so they put us in a carriage and covered us with hay, and like this they brought us through the last guards before the base of the Stalin Brigade.
Guarding that line was a Jewish guy by the name of Shepsel Shpringer, from Horodok. Feldman told him about our situation but he did not want to help us. The head of this brigade passed by and Feldman suggested that we tell him our situation. When he heard us he said that we were accepted into the partisans.
In the ghetto there was a Jewish girl by the name of Yeha. She had a Belgian boyfriend who was a collaborator with the Germans. He would bring her food. I was very upset with her for befriending a German collaborator, but she said that her German collaborator was not like the others, and that he promised to run away with her to the partisans. So now I came to the commander of the brigade and asked for permission to return to the ghetto. I told him about the German collaborator who wants to escape to the partisans and bring weapons. The truth was that I really wanted to save my parents, my brother and my cousin and other Jews. Finally I got permission, and together with Fanie we returned to the ghetto.
Originally we went with a group of partisans to Storyoselo for provisions and there we went on our way. On the way we met with Zorin, He asked us, “Where are you going, Jewish girls?”
We didn’t know this was Zorin. We arrived to Minsk, and when it became dark, we crossed the fence of the ghetto. The Germans shot at us but didn’t get us. Our home was next to the fence. As soon as my mother arrived, I said, “We are going to the partisans. Go and tell Yeha to inform her German that tomorrow we are leaving for the partisans.”
As it turned out, Yeha refused to tell her man. She said he would never agree. When I realized that Yeha lied to me, I said to mother, “Go and get Yeha and her mother to come with me to the head of the brigade, and they should explain to him the situation. Why should I be shot for her lies?”
I took my mother and my brother and my cousin and Yeha and her mother and a few other Jews. Fanie took her sister and we went through the fence. I was the leader and walked ahead. Mother refused to walk , but I forced her to go. I took them through small trails so as to not encounter German guards, and I brought them all the way to Storyoselo. One of the residents of the village agreed to let us sleep there, and in the morning, the partisans arrived to take us to the camp.
As it turned out, my mother told everyone she encountered that day that her daughter Yohevet had returned from the partisans, and they were now accepting Jews. So when we arrived to the camp, there were about a hundred people who had come to Storyoselo. When the commissar heard about it, he became very mad. “How could it be that you brought women and children? Where is the German and the weapons?”
I said, “Let the girl who dated him and her mother tell you about it. The women and the children wanted to survive and I couldn’t leave my mother in the ghetto when I am here.”
They let the women and the children go, and they put me next to the wall. The commissar with his gun drawn started counting my crimes. He said that I lied, that I had told the ghetto people the road to the partisans and other things. The head of my unit, a Christian man, defended me and said he’d take me to the base and he would further investigate the incident. So that was what he did. My brother was accepted into the partisans, and with him a few more men who came. Mother was left behind. I told her to follow us, and we returned to our base.
When we returned to the base, I volunteered for all the most dangerous missions. I took part in reconnaissance, explosives, and railroad demolition. They said I deserved a reward and I said the best present for me would be to return to the ghetto and bring back doctors and other people.
I returned to the ghetto with the address of the Kastelanitz family, and through them I was to get in touch with other people. There was a doctor and a pharmacist and a woman by the name of Sofia Sodovskaya whose husband was the editor of a newspaper. I had to bring them first. My father was already with the partisans at that point.
I came to the Kastelanitz family. They told me that I must be careful in the ghetto and I hid with them for four days. Even the Judenrat people guarded me since they wanted to come with me to the partisans. On the fifth day, the families arrived. One of the people that came had some papers that said he was allowed to take people to work. So I put a yellow tag on my clothes and we left. The policemen didn’t stop us when we left, supposedly to work, from the gate of the ghetto.
Soon after we got out, I took the yellow tag off. I carried a typewriter in one hand, and somewhere I had a small gun hidden. I decided that if someone should catch me for being a Jew, I would not fall alive into their hands. I would kill myself.
The people who walked behind me wore the yellow tags with the number on their clothes. Until we reached the point where we were allowed to walk. Upon reaching that point, everyone took off the yellow tags and continued. I walked at the head, all made up and in my hand held a blonde child, the child of Kodovsky. We pretended to be Polish and when we encountered people, I said some Polish words. The Jews with me were very scared. I calmed them down and we left Minsk through some train station. When we arrived there, a German from the train station came to me and asked where I was going. I said that we were going to get some food in exchange for supplies. I could see in his face that he was not the killer type. As time passed, we developed that sense.
I was 16 years old, and he was friendly. It seemed like he was looking for a chance to spend some time with a young girl. He walked with me and we were able to pass through the different guards. The people who walked behind thought I had been caught, so I quickly said to Sodovsky’s child in Russian to let them know that this was an okay German. I hinted to the people to go ahead of me, and I walked slowly with the German. He smiled and cracked jokes and flirted with me, and his hand started touching my breast, where I hid weapon. I knew that I was taking a great chance so I said, “No, my dear. My mother doesn’t allow me to spend time with Germans like this. If you want, I can bring you from Poland some pork and eggs. Here is my mother’s address. Please come visit us, and if mother will agree, I will be your lover, but not right now.”
I was lucky that he wasn’t too disturbed and he let me go. We were about 10 km from Minsk, and the day darkened. Two partisans came on horses. The Jews became fearful and ran to the fields, and the partisans ran behind them. After I gave them the code word, they said to me “it is four days that we waited for your return”. We arrived to Katitz, and there we had some heart wrenching meetings between husbands and wives, fathers and sons, etc. From there we brought them to the forest to join the partisans. They all became members with various jobs. Some fell in battle, but most survived.
I returned to my job of laying mines and explosives. Whenever they asked where we should go, I said, “Where ever there is a place with a large concentration of Germans, so I can kill as many as possible.”
I would go ahead and behind me walked large men. The Christians said to my mother, “How did you raise such a child? She is like the devil. She pulls us through fire and water.”
But I walked through all these dangerous places not for any glory. I only wanted revenge. I wanted to see the Germans’ blood spilled.
One time, we caught some German cars. I pulled a German soldier out to the forest, and on the way I beat him with a rifle. He asked me, “Why are you so evil? You are so young.”
I answered him, “I am a Jew,” and continued beating him.
Once again he asked, “Why are you so mean? There is no way for me to escape.”
I started cursing him and said, “I am a Jew.”
“If you are a Jew, so what?”
So I responded, “You killed my brothers, you raped my sisters. If I could I would break your veins and drink your blood. I am coming after you monsters.”
One day, we blew up 21 train cars that were filled with ammunition. For six hours, the train continued burning and exploding. The head car also exploded. We had to continue and put explosives in another place. The Russian members of the unit said, “It’s enough that we did that. We have finished our jobs.”
I told them, “You can return, but I am not returning until I set the next explosives.”
Like this I continued until the liberation. I returned to Minsk many times and took out people and weapons to the partisans. I must say that most of the Russians, the Latvians and the Belarussians did not like the Jews. There were only small numbers that helped. Even the Communist Jews in the underground and in the partisans did not encourage a mass escape from the ghetto.
The Jews that I saved from the ghetto returned there and brought others out to the camp. I was very young then and my heart cries that I could not do more, and that I didn’t start doing anything until a later date. My father, who was then 40 years old, did not understand his conditions. The Germans had already murdered five of his seven children, and he sat and waited in the ghetto. For what? For his sure death? But the Jews in the underground knew what was to be the fate of the ghetto Jews. Why were they quiet? Why didn’t they awaken the masses who were taken to be slaughtered by yelling to them, “Run away! Save your souls! Fight!” Many would fall, but some would survive….