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What My Eyes Have Seen

by Pnina Hayat nee Potashnik Volozhyn Yizkor book Page 550

Translated by M. Porat

Photo: The Righteous Gentile Kovalski Ivan, his wife and two of his children

1941; The Soviets left Volozhyn in haste. The Germans entered the town without any resistance. The first sign of the Germans in the area was the unit of parachutists that descended near our home. Armed forces entered the town shortly after. The constant air bombing set the town on fire. We were immediately forced to participate in various hard labor chores. The principal forced labor sites were the Polak's & Rapoport-Perelman's saw-mills. The women cleaned the Gestapo lodgments. We walked to work in groups. As soon as we would arrive they would start thrashing us with whips. We were ordered to put yellow patches on our sleeves. With time it changed to a yellow Star of David with the word "Jude" in the middle. We were forbidden to use the sidewalk. We had to walk in the middle of the road like horses. They ordered us to move into a designated Ghetto area. Shortly after enclosing the Volozhyn Jews in the Ghetto the Germans pushed inside its fence also the Jews of Olshan with their town-Rabbi. The congestion became unbearable. We were very deficient in nourishments. Bringing food inside the Ghetto was difficult and dangerous. From time to time the bandits harassed the ghetto inhabitants. They encroached into our lodgment and beat us mercilessly demanding money and valuables. On October 28th the Gestapo ordered us to assemble on the Ghetto Street. All the inhabitants were forced to come. They chose some 200 people and enclosed them into the cinema local. Leading them on the walk to the cinema area was Yani Garber, the Judenrat Head. He was told that they are all taken to work. However they were all led by groups of ten to the adjacent sport square and shot to death. Zviya Lunin was among the conveyed to die, but she survived. The Nazis let her free. The quota, as they said, was completed. This time the German accuracy saved a Jewish life (not for long). After that "First Action" the ghetto area was reduced. Shneur Kivelevitsh was elected as the Judenrat Head. Many months passed and then some tormenting news reached the ghetto. The Germans geared up for a new slaughter. Rivka Dratvitski's husband, a gentile, who was friendly with the Jews, brought the information. Thanks to him many people were saved. Sunday, May 10th, 1942, at five in the morning Shneur Kivelevitsh appeared in our home and told us that the ghetto is surrounded. He advised every one to hide. The Germans enclosed the ghetto and meticulously looked for the Jews. They killed on the spot those who were found and refused to expose friends or relatives hiding places. My brother Yehuda, Osher (Itshe Bers) Perski, his son Ruvke and I, decided to run away. We passed the Volozhynka stream near the bridge and concealed ourselves in a grove. Some local Christians chased us. We could hear them saying that they are looking for us. When they left, I walked to Horodok; Osher Perski with his son to went to Zabrezhe. The Jews I met in the Horodok Ghetto were in a very agitated spirit. They just heard about the recent mass slaughter in Volozhyn. After the "second Action" the Volozhyn authorities reduced the ghetto area and enclosed inside the remaining little group of Jews. They assured them that the rest would work and be safe. I believed this false promise and returned home. I worked with some Jewish girls, among them Miriam Kagan and Rachel from Mejeyk, in a carpenter's team. Our manager was Yezierski. Once, as we were ready to return to the ghetto, we realized that the Germans were surrounding the ghetto, and some Jews were running out of the gate. We threw away the yellow patches and looked for a place to hide. The Germans shot at us and killed ten girls. Miryam Kagan and I hid in a wheat field. At night we went in the Mejeyk direction. After a lot of wandering we arrived in the Kaldiki hamlet. We knocked at a peasant's door and implored him to give us some nourishment. We were swollen from hunger. Despite the fact that they were poor they shared their food with us. We walked through the hamlet and deciding that we have nothing to lose. We knocked at a door of another remote house. A peasant opened the door, led us into the adjacent barn and locked the door. After a couple of frightful hours the landlord opened the barn and invited us to his house. It was a single room house with two big beds, a broken table and an oven. Here lived the Righteous Gentile Ivan Kovalski with his family: wife, three daughters and two sons. This poor family received us cheerfully and with unusual warmth. They cried with tears seeing our wretched appearance. After we warmed our frozen bodies and had a hot meal, they equipped us with blankets and led us back to the barn. It happened at Saturday evening, November 14th 1942. On Sunday morning we were served with a breakfast. We left some food to take away, being sure that Kovalski will expel us. At noon he came in and seeing the food remnants he asked us "Why?". We answered: "We are sure that you would not hide Jewish girls much longer. You are endangering the life of your entire family. For that reason we decided to go our way". Kovalski, offended by our answer, said: "Dear girls, my family and I, we decided to let you live with us. Your fate is our fate, our home is your home". It was a very cold winter. We froze in the barn. Kovalski, the good soul, invited us in his house to conceal us upon the oven. It was a not aired, a very hot place. Kovalski used to lead us every day for a couple of hours into the potatoes cellar to breath some air. The children cooperated with their parents, and at danger, they warned us with agreed signs. One day German soldiers encircled the Krazhina hamlet, some 500 meters from us. They assembled all the hamlet inhabitants, spilled kerosene, set fire and burned all of them. They did it as revenge. Some partisans killed Germans soldiers, and took their retreat through Krazhina. Kovalski was conscious of the danger that awaited him and us. But he did not abandon us, on the contrary, as a good softhearted father he calmed and encouraged us. However I had a premonition that we are in danger staying at this house. Partisans were very active in the near by area. Fights and shootings broke from time to time. The Kovalskis asked and begged us to stay. But we decided to go. Kovalski made some journeys in the surrounding communities looking for traces of the Partisans. He found a troop of Partisans and brought us to them. They were hostile, suspecting us as agents of the German intelligence services. They arranged a quick trial and convicted us to death. Before the execution hour approached a Krazhina partisan asked us who we were and from where we came. When I told him my name, he informed me that my brother Yehuda Yosef Potashnik is serving as a partisan near by. The Krazhina partisan told his commander that I am a well-known partisan's sister and he tore the paper with the verdict. I was transferred with Mariyasha Kagan to Baksht. There were many active partisan units in the area. My brother Yehuda Yosef took me to the Lidayev partisan unit, in the Nalibok forest. After some days the Germans surrounded the entire area. We hid in pits and other hiding places. When they left we concentrated in an outlying corner of the Nalibok forests. We established there a winter camp in which we lived until the Volozhyn liberation. After the liberation we returned to Volozhyn. I went to see Kovalski. The relations between us tightened. He visited us every day. His son and daughter worked in town and dwelled in my house. In 1945 I left Volozhyn to Poland. In 1947 I made Aliya. All that time I wrote letters to Kovalski but I had no answers. In 1966 I received his address. Kovalski with his family lived in Ural. Without delay I sent him a vestments package. He confirmed with joy its reception and sent his thanks. Since then we correspond and I send him and his family members presents, thanking this noble man for saving my life.

Translator's note: Kovalski Ivan, his wife and two children. VIB Photo: p. 553 Pnina Hayat, Born in Volozhyn (as Peshka Potashnik), deceased in Israel 1974, VIB photo: p. 588, (seated, 1st, on right). Potashnik Menahem Mendl, Rabbi, Pnina's brother, born in Volozhyn, Volozhyn Izkor Book committee member in USA., VIB Picture: p. 661. Potashnik Yehuda Yosef, Pnina's brother, born in Volozhyn 1905, deceased in Israel 1965. - VIB Photo: p. 36 counted from left. I remember: Peshke and Mendl Potashnik were employed at our family business (Grind & saw mill) in Volozhyn before the war.