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Mikhail Moshe Sosenskiy

Mikhail Moshe Sosenskiy (born in 1929, son of Yosef): Several Jewish families lived in Khotenchitsy which was next to the Polish border with the Soviet Union during the years 1920- 1939. In September of 1939 the Soviets took over the area. In June of 1941 the Nazis invaded,...
With the arrival of the Germans, deacon Stepan Leshkevich, as a former officer in the tsarist army who knew German, was appointed burgomaster. He had a family: Two children -- son Daniel and daughter Nina. Leshkevich was a well-read and educated man. At the end of July 1941, a man named Zakhar worked at our mill. One day, when he was drunk, he tore off Hitler's portrait. The Germans arrested him. Zakhar denied his guilt and decided to blame the Jews for everything. He brought the Germans to the mill and pointed to my father, Iosif, and his cousin Izrail Tsimmerman. The Germans arrested them, not letting them even change their clothes. Father was mixing grain and was without boots. One of the Germans said in Polish: “If you could run to Communist meetings, you could go barefoot now”. They took him to town. Suddenly, Leshkevich appeared and intervened: “Whom did you arrest? The Soviets took away their mill and were about to send them to Siberia.” Since he was the burgomaster, the Germans believed him. They released my father and uncle, took Zakhar into the forest, and shot him. After some time, on the eve of an Aktion in 1942 ( the Jews of the Ilja ghetto were all killed and they sent for the rest of the Jews to be killed in the smaller ghettos in the area) , Leshkevich helped the remaining Jewish families to escape into the forest.

After the liberation of Belorussia, Leshkevich was tried as a German collaborator in the small town of Il'ya. Jews from Khotenchitsy spoke in his defense, recounting how he saved the ghetto. This was not taken into account and Leshkevich was sentenced to be shot. This case had a depressing effect on everyone. The authorities treated differently our other neighbor, Mikhail Filistovich from Vyazyn'. Before 1939, there were pogroms and arsons in Vyazyn'. The house of my grandpa Shimon Berman was burned down. Another pogrom was held when the Germans arrived. Uncle Lazar, my father's brother, aunt Genya with two babies in her arms, and grandma Gita (Genya's mother) went to Khotenchitsy. However, when the Germans began to establish a ghetto in Khotenchitsy, Lazar's family was sent back to Vyazyn'. The ghetto in Vyazyn' was liquidated in the summer of 1942. After the shooting, when members of the punitive squads left, uncle Lazar got out of the grave and began to shout: “Jews! Who is still alive?” The bullet only scratched him, hitting his daughter, Etel (3 1/2 years old), whom he held in his arms. His wife, Genya, got up. At the moment of the killing, she took the younger daughter, Khana (1 1/2 years old) in her arms. They miraculously survived. Their children died, protecting their parents with their bodies. They climbed out of the ditch, but had nowhere to go -- it was daylight. When they hid in the straw in the attic of a barn, Mikhail Filistovich, who came to loot, noticed them and began to scream: “Live Jews!” Lazar and Genya were taken from the attic, led to the common pit, and executed. Filistovich boasted about how the Jews knelt and begged him not to give them away. After the arrival of the Red Army, Filistovich was tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He served seven years and then was included in the amnesty. When he was released, he did not return to Vyazyn', but went to live with his daughter in Lithuania (Author's archive. Record of a talk with Mikhail Iosifovich Sosenskiy of July 4, 1996 in Jerusalem).

Author's note: Khotenchitsy -- a village in Vileyka Rayon. Vyazyn' -- a village and the center of the rural soviet in Vileyka Rayon, Minsk Oblast, on the left bank of the Iliya River, 22 km from Vileyka; known since the 15th century. After the second division of Rzeczpospolita (1793), it became part of Vileyka Uyezd, Minsk Guberniya. In 1897 a total of 601 residents lived there. There was an Orthodox church, a Catholic chapel, and a synagogue. In 1918 German forces occupied it. In 1921 it became part of Poland. In 1926 a total of 137 Jews lived there. In 1939 it became part of the BSSR. From June 1941 to July 1944, German forces occupied it. A monument to 108 residents of nearby villages who died during the war years, without an indication of their nationality, was erected in the center of Vyazyn'.