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From Postav to the Forest
By Dvorah Gordon, page 347 of “With Proud Bearing”, 1939-1945

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan
I was born in a small shtetl - Postav. Postav is located not far from
Vilna. Five days after the war started, my father, my grandfather, and my
brother were murdered. On June 27, 1941, they became the first victims in our
town. Shortly after they were killed, all the Jews of Postav were put into a
ghetto. I was there for about three to four months, and then my cousin arrived
from the forest. He told us that we must prepare ourselves to leave the ghetto
and join him in the forest. Clearly, we found ourselves in a dilemma. People
said our leaving would endanger their situation, and the Germans would punish
them, and the Judenrat did not allow us to leave the ghetto and go to the
forest. My cousin, who was a partisan, threatened them and said that if they
prevented us from leaving he would shoot in the air, and his partisan friends
hiding in the Jewish cemetery would come to his aid. He did not mean this, but
he wanted to scare them so that they would let us leave the ghetto. Finally,
the Judenrat released a list of fifteen people who they permitted to escape.
The committee of the Judenrat took out some of the wood pieces that surrounded
the fence of the ghetto, and helped us get out. Before my cousin left, he told
us where we should meet him, but we did not know the roads there. We walked
for about five hours but could not find him or his friends. Here we were, a
group of fifteen people, walking by the dawn's light like a herd without a
Not knowing where to go, we decided to go into a tunnel to wait for
the partisans, hoping they would come and get us. As the day arose, we could
hear from afar sounds of horses. When we looked, we saw that a carriage was
approaching with two passengers. We were too afraid to talk to them. Later we
found out they were partisans but we missed our chance. Morning came and we
knew we could be seen by the light of the road, so we left and hid by the
light of the nearby forest. In my group was my uncle Abrasha. Originally,
only my brother and I left the ghetto; my mother and two sisters had stayed in
the ghetto. I came to my uncle and said that soon we would be found here
anyway, so we may as well go back to the ghetto to get my mother and sister.
At first he refused to go back but finally agreed.
I put a kerchief on my head, and together the two of us went to town. On the way,
I met some Christian neighbors of ours who went to the town's church.
Immediately, they recognized us. I decided to go to the smith, whose daughter
had been my classmate. It was Sunday and he was not working, but he asked that
we leave his house, as we were risking his life as well as his family's. I
said, I only had one question: was the ghetto liquidated? He said that no,
Jews were still alive. Before evening came, we passed by our old house and saw
that there were ten Jews praying in our house as if someone died. They were in shock when they saw us. They said that the Judenrat had said that
the fifteen people who had left were killed, and that they would bring to the
ghetto the heads of all the people that were killed. I think that they just
wanted to make Jews fear to leave the ghetto and also make the Germans believe
that they had not condoned the escape and were opposed to it.
We stayed in the ghetto for two months before my cousin came again and
asked whether the Judenrat would let another group of Jews leave. I decided I
would not go to the forest without my mother and sisters, so we all left
together. When we reached the forest of Nieve, we met with the Jews who had
been there for a while already. They looked horrible, their faces were
blackened from soot. We were still very clean and had brought with us soap,
towels, shoes, and some clothes to change into. Everyone looked at us as if we
had arrived from America.
It was very hard to get used to the forest. I remember the first time
my mother boiled potatoes; they became red and were very salty. My mother said
she would never get used to life in the forest or food here. My mother said to
Vanka, a non Jew who lived near the forest, "I will bring you everything I have brought from the ghetto. In exchange bring me a pail of water, which I will use only for drinking for the three of
us." The guy started laughing at her, saying, "you must get used to life here.
you are in the forest. what do you think!? you think that we should build a
well for you here?" He brought us some dirty water.
Slowly, we started to get used to this bitter life in the forest.
Winter came and it become cold, but in our group there was no man who could
build us a zimlanka, so we built a tent from pine tree branches and lived
there until spring. We made a bonfire under it which we kept continuously
burning, and we spent the majority of the day huddled around it. We also
cooked food over the bonfire. In the tent with us lived a young woman from
Vilna who used to be a classmate of mine. When we fell asleep she stole our
potatoes and threw them in the bonfire to bake them, and then ate them. Every
morning we would find that a few potatoes had gone missing overnight.
One time, Myra, the girl, fell asleep by the bonfire. She was so
exhausted she did not notice that her jacket had caught in the fire, and a few
minutes later, the entire tent had burned down. Everyone became enraged and
started yelling at her not only for burning the tent but also for stealing the potatoes in the past. After a time,
her cousin came and took her away with him.
When we could not take the cold anymore, and our clothing could no longer protect us from the elements, Mother
told our cousin, who had come, that she no longer cared about her fate, as
long as she could die in a clean bed. I told her that the road was very
dangerous and that we did not know how to even get out of the forest, but
Mother was very stubborn and insisted that we return to the ghetto. We started
walking out of the forest, but, to our great luck, a group of partisans came
forth. Among them were a few Jews we had known who asked her “Riva, where are you going”?
She said, "we are going home to the ghetto. We cannot take life in the
forest any longer." They answered, "your home is here in the forest. There is
no other place for you. Mother explained that we had no zimlanka, as the rest
of the Jews did, and that this was the reason we were leaving the place. One
of the partisans called me aside and said, "Dvorele! Have pity on your mother
and yourself. I haven’t the heart to tell her, but the Postav ghetto is no
more. There was a slaughter there; there is not one Jew left alive there." I
said to him that I did not have the courage to tell this horrible news to my
mother, so we agreed to tell her that there was a huge snowstorm now but that
in a few days they would come back and take us to the ghetto.
So we returned to the forest. Those Jewish partisans helped us a lot,
bringing us flour, potatoes, and clothes. We slowly got used to forest life,
as the rest of the Jews there had. Now we were faced with other problems, the
main being the blockades we would have to run to distant places every time there was a blockade,. People would not let us join them to look for food in the villages. Since we had no men with us it was dangers for us to look for food alone.

The fact that we were a group of women only made life in the forest unbearable. There were no men to defend us, and it was very difficult for women to survive alone. I remember one incident having to do with potatoes.
The rest of the in the forest went during the night to take some potatoes. They did not let us know
that they were going, and they refused to take us with them to the village when we asked them to join, so
we decided to just follow them. When they left, we snuck into the potato
cellar. When we descended, we found people already there, and we were not able
to all fit inside of it.
Mother said, "Children, I will go into the hole and bring back
potatoes." she went down and filled a sack with potatoes, but could not lift
it to come back up with it. We yelled to her that she should just fill the
sack half-way and then give it to us. Meanwhile, the cellar had emptied. Only
my sister and I remained above, while Mother was below. We tried hard to lift
the sack out, but it was cold and our hands were frozen and we could not get
it out. Morning came, and we were very fearful that farmers would come and
find that we were robbing them of their potatoes. We were also fearful that a
Soviet partisan would come and kill us, so finally we decided to let go of the
potatoes and get Mother out of the hole. It took more than an hour - finally,
we were able to take her out and she was empty-handed, so we cried bitterly
that we had lost such a treasure of potatoes. I will never forget the picture
of us standing and crying by this hole.
The Typhus Epidemic
Summer came, and a new problem arose. A typhus epidemic took place in
our camp. Many of us became sick, amongst them my sister and I. Clearly, there
was no medicine and no doctor amongst us. A few people died; every morning, we
prayed that god would bring a miracle and we would recover. If not a miracle,
at least we hoped to be allowed to die peacefully and not fall at the hands of
the Germans, who we had learned were planning a big blockade to find the
partisans. My poor mother would walk every day to a nearby village, from where
she would bring some dark bread and a few beans to eat.
One swelteringly hot day, Mother came to the house of a farmer in this
village, and the owner of the home gave her something cold to drink that they
called 'Kvas' here. Made from dry bread and water, it tasted very bitter. They
would put a little piece of dry sourdough bread in a large container filled
with water, and, after a few days, a sour drink would result. Mother asked
that the woman to give her a bottle of the drink for her two sick daughters who
were in very poor health, so it could give us strength. The woman answered her
that she would be happy to give her all the liquid that she had, if she had
any container where she could put it. When my mother started thanking her
effusively for this great present, the woman said, "Don't thank me. I prepared
this drink but no human being wants to drink it. Even the pigs in the barn
refuse to taste it. It turned too sour." The next day, my mother returned to
this village with two pails in her hands, which she filled with the thirst-
quenching drink. The entire way home, she could not stop crying, thinking
about how awful our situation was, and that now we are happy to receive a
drink that even the pigs did not want. Lucky for us, we recovered from the
typhus without any medicine or doctor, all thanks to this bitter 'Kvas' from
the village.