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By the Nails of the Eradicator



When the Bolsheviks entered Kurenitz in 1939, I submitted an

application to become a nursery school teacher. I had just graduated that year from a

Seminar for teachers in Vilna. The board of culture and education in

Vileyka turned down my application. The reason for that was that at the time,

there was a tremendous shortage of upper grades teachers, consequently I, as

most other teachers in the area, was sent to a crash course of Russian and

Belarussian studies. As soon as I was done with my studies, I was

appointed the temporary school principal, in a four grades school, in the village

Kalin, three and one half kilometers away from Kurenitz.

The farmer who had taken me in his carriage for my new job

started a conversation with me. When we were nearly in Kalin, he enlightened me

of what was awaiting me in Kalin. He told me that the village residents were

extremely distressed with the idea that a Jew would be responsible for

the education of their Christian children. Furthermore they did not accept

the appointment peacefully; they sent a committee of the village citizens

to protest to the board of education. They demanded that the Soviets send

a Christian replacement.

Therefore, I started my job in a hostile and mistrusting

environment. However, I came to work with an abundance of energy and with utmost

commitment. After a short time the students flourished and greatly

advanced in their studies. When the students became attached to me, the parents

changed their attitude towards me too. By the end of the year, our bond

was so strong that they suggested that I teach permanently, in spite of the

fact that the old teacher had come back. Now they sent a letter to the

office of education demanding to designate me a permanent teacher in their


I was a teacher in Kalin for one more year. In June, when the school

year ended, I went to my parents' house in Kurenets to acquire some rest

during the summer vacation. As it turned, I didn't get any relaxation that


On June 22, 1941, the Germans invaded Russia. Fear and hysteria

spread rapidly amongst the Jewish population. We understood well the extent of

the war, since Kurenitz was a central gathering station for the Red Army in

the first few days. The town was teeming with soldiers day and night.

Rumors spread that the Germans were very close. Minsk was exploding

and soon the Soviet workers, who were sent from Russia to Kurenitz two

years prior,(before 1939 Kurenitz was part of Poland) started running away

east, toward the old Russian border.

It took one night for them to collect their belongings and run.

My parents home was divided after the Soviets came, in one part lived

a clerk with the NKVD and his family, in another part lived the head of

the police. His family at that point was vacationing in Minsk, he was so

busy with police matters that when he received the order to leave, he had no

time to gather his belongings.

Many left town toward the east. Some went by foot, others by transportation.

They used trucks, trains that departed from Vileyka, carriages, riding

horses and bicycles, - anyway they could distance themselves from the

approaching enemy.

The town's streets were awash with action and pandemonium. Young

people carrying luggage scurried from one street to the next looking for some

means of transportation. All around you would hear cries of good-byes and

words of desperation. I wanted to run east, however my heart did not let me

leave my parents behind. I considered taking them with me but I knew that this

was an impossible journey for them. I consulted with the head of the police

who was leaving that day, he assured me that he would return the next day and

inform me of the situation on the road. Meanwhile he said that I should not

panic, I should wait in town for a few more days. He did return the next day and

told me that there were rumors that some Germans dressed as Red Army

soldiers parachuted in the area and we should be careful when we talk to

strangers. Minsk was already occupied by the Germans, the head of the police left

and didn't return. In fact, the town was left with no ruling authority.

Most of the Jews, who ran away, returned to town, some found the

roads blocked. The Germans preceded others. Great fear spread amongst the

Jews. We all remembered the scary days prior to the Soviets' entrance to town in

1939, days where the town was left with no one who governed, and the

villagers came to rob. And if it happened prior to the Soviets, we were sure it would

happen on a much larger scale when the anti-Semite Germans were approaching.

To our surprise, the Christian inhabitants of our town decided to

help the Jews; they organized a patrol to prevent the villagers from entering

town. They asked us to join them in the effort to save the town from the

approaching pillagers. We soon realized that they were doing it not for

the love of 'Mordechai", when the Soviets ran away, they left a lot of

supply behind. The Christian inhabitants did not want to share the supply with

out of town pillagers. Therefore at the town outskirts there was voluntary

citizens patrol, some were armed with rifles. They let none enter town,

The Germans already entered most of the towns in our area; we were

amongst the last. Most of the Jews hid in their homes but some were curious,

they stood outdoors when the Germans arrived. The first to reach town was a

unit riding motorcycles. They opened the potrebsyoz storage buildings and

the cooperatives and distributed the merchandise amongst the local

residents. Right behind them, a large group of soldiers entered the town. An order

was immediately announced; "all weapons that are held by local citizens

must be brought to the field police at once". When two Jewish cousins (both

named Shimon Zimerman), who were just done with their watch as the Germans

arrived, returned their weapons, the Germans imprisoned them. We were all very

fearful for them since they had just vanished! Two weeks passed and then a

villager told their family that they were murdered on the day they were


Jews who held high positions during the Soviet days were now very

fearful of reprisals. The men, who did not succeed in escaping to Russia,

searched for hiding places. My father hid Leib Charnas above our room in the

attic right next to the Rabbi minyan. He was in hiding there until his family

was able to arrange something else for him. The Germans ordered the Jewish

men to gather in the town center, there they were told of the new rules and

limitations. All Jews had to partake in the work force without any

monitory compensation. We were from now on, as livestock, only allowed to walk

in the middle of the road, no sidewalks for us. Every Jew older then sixteen

had to put a sign that he was a Jew on his clothes. The sign had to be seen

and recognized from afar. First, we had to tie a white ribbon on our

sleeves with the letter "J" for "Jew". Then a patch replaced it with "J" on our

chests. Later it was a patch with a Jewish star. At the end, it was a yellow

Jewish star on both the front and the back. Any gathering of more then three

people at the time was disallowed. No contact with the Christian

population was permitted. Disregarding any of these rules would cause very harsh

punishments. Of the kind of punishments they were talking about we had

a clear idea. Shmuel Gurevich and Zalman Mendel son of Cheikel Velvel

Alperovich were amongst the well to do Jews in town in the Polish days.

When the Soviets entered Kurenitz in 1939, they confiscated their

properties. Both men and their families moved to the shtetl Sol. When the Germans

invaded the men decided to return to Kurenitz, the men came first to check the


They arrived and decided to go back to Sol and transfer their families

to Kurenitz. On their way the Germans caught them and killed them on the

spot. Travel by Jews was not permitted except for the places that the Germans

were ordering them to go.

Particularly devastating for us was the order prohibiting any

contact with the Christians. Since we were not being compensated for our work, we

needed to barter for food. The farmers didn't need us now; they were well off

from the properties that the escapees (both Soviets and Jews) left behind.

The homes and rooms of the escapees were broken. Locks, doors and windows

were destroyed; all their possessions were stolen. Even the door handles

were taken. This was the fate of the part of our house were the former head

of the police used to live.

There were farmers who disregarded the threats and continued, out

of friendship, to help the Jews. My family also had such righteous

Christian friends, and amongst the kindest of them was the Smetinko family that

we knew from the days of Polish rule. At the time of the Soviet rule, I met

them again in the village Kalin, where I worked as a teacher. So as soon as

the Germans entered the town, Mr. Smetinko and his daughter came to our

house with food and were very concerned for us. When the situation worsened,

especially after Simhatoa killing, Smitenko put his own life in danger

and came to our house to comfort us. One day he came with a suggestion

that we move to his village in his new apartment, where I used to live when I

was a teacher. He suggested it without asking for any valuables in return,

which was so unusual at the time that most Jews gave their valuables to

friendly farmers, and many of them were later turned over to the Germans by

these same farmers. But Smetinko, who received nothing from us, tirelessly tried

to help us through all the days of the German occupation.

The only food we were able to obtain was a little bread that we

received for our hard labor. Two hundred and fifty grams was given to each

soul. My first job was at a community center, where the German POW patrol lived.

The camp was situated on a yard that had previously been the meat market.

Pokenn village on one side, and the fields of Dr. Schostekowitz on the other

side bordered it. The yard was fenced in by barbed wire, and watchtowers

with searchlights were at each corner. There were 30 of us who were sent

there to clean and wash clothes. When the German soldiers left for training or

to receive new POWs, we would clean their rooms and clean their laundry.

Then we would peel potatoes and prepare bread for the POWs. Originally we

didn't know who was going to eat the bread and we did as we were told, cutting

the bread into five equal pieces, which meant two hundred grams for each

slice. But when we realized this bread was given to the POWs, we were full of

pity and we wanted to do something for them. So we disregarded the rules

and we started cutting the bread into four pieces, so that each would get a

little more. But most of the time we would get caught and were forbidden from

doing this. From the potatoes we would make soup that was very watery and

tasteless. Sometimes we managed to put a few pieces of dry fish that

we found in the Soviet storage area, but this was a very rare occasion

The Germans would beat the POWs with rubber sticks till they bled.

Germans that were not able to find sticks would hit the POWs with their

rifles, knives, or whatever they could find. The POWs came through the

little town of Retzka, rest in the meat market for one night, and in

the morning they would continue on their way to Vileyka. At the entrance

to the camp, the German soldiers stood in two lines and each POW would be

beaten till he bled. If there was a sick or wounded POW that would fall on

his march or would lean on his friend, they would double the beatings, and

many times they would kill them on the spot.

We, the Jews, stood near the POWs. We were very closely watched

and were told to give each POW a piece of bread. If we noticed that the Germans

were not paying attention, we would give the POWs the breadcrumbs that we

collected after the cutting of the bread, or we would gather the

breadcrumbs at the edge of the table so the POWs could take them themselves. When we were caught we were blamed for our negligence and we were beaten very

severely, but even more so they beat the POWs that were caught doing

this. In two boilers that were standing outside, other people made soup for a

few hundred people. Altogether they would put in three to five containers

of potatoes.

Some prisoners had little empty cans, but some didn't have even

that, so they had to forego the soup. Some would take their hats and put the

soup in them, eating from that. Each day they would march from 50 to 80

kilometers, lasting for weeks. They were tired and depressed, and many died on the

way. The Germans murdered those who were weak and malingering. The nights

were cold, and many of them did not have anything warm to wear. Many of

them threw away their coats when they had originally attempted to escape

imprisonment, or during the long marches as their coats made the walk

more difficult. The reason why many of them let go of their coats was that

you could see their rank insignia. Some who had high rank did not want the

Germans to know about it. Most of their shoes were torn from their

marches, and they could hardly sleep at night from the cold. Sometimes, before

night came, the Germans would give them a few pieces of wood to make

bonfires, and those few pieces of wood caused big fights among the POWs. Sometimes it even made them kill one another. A few POWs tried to escape during the night, but they almost always failed. When the Germans caught them they were

killed on the spot. Early in the morning they were kicked out of the yard and

make them march to Vileyka. When they left, the Jews of the town would bury

the dead and clean the yard for the next transport.

After a while I was sent to another place, to the Luban farm. Prior

to the war the Luban farm was a model farm. When the Germans entered, they

sent us to work in the cowshed and in the fields. This work was not too

difficult, and the farmers treated us well. But, after a while the situation of

the women worsened. There was a troop of German soldiers in Luban, and

during the day they didn't interfere with our jobs, but at night they would

bother the women. They slept in a separate house, when it turned dark we

locked the doors and the windows and tried to look dirty and ugly. We slept in

shifts, some slept and some stood guard. In the morning we would all be tired

from the fearful, sleepless night.

I only worked there for one week, but it left a memorable impression on

me because during Simhatorah, the Germans came to Luban and took a few

healthy, strong men to be killed with the 54 martyrs of our town; killed because

the Kurenets police identified them as Communist sympathizers.

In the police force was the trash of the Christian community;

especially infamous was the policeman Berzinjuk. Before the Germans entered the

area, we hardly knew him. He was illiterate, a slob, cruel and completely

ignorant. During the Soviets' time, despite the trend of lowly members

of society receiving high positions, he remained a lowly watchman. But

now was his chance to take revenge, especially on the Jews. In a very short

time everyone reviled his name. He made every Jewish heart fearful.

One day, during early morning hours, a woman entered our home. She

was dressed like a villager and with her came a boy about fourteen or

fifteen. I came to greet her and I realized that it was Karlova, a Christian woman

and the wife of the police chief during the Soviet days. She had lived

with us back then. The boy was her brother. When the war started, she was

visiting her parents in Minsk and was left there penniless. Now she came to

Kurenets to see whether anything was left of her belongings. We had a long talk

during which she told us of the situation of the Jews in Minsk, locked in a

ghetto. I told her of the situation in Kurenets and informed her that her

Christian neighbors Yolka and Melvina had robbed all her belongings. While we

were talking, Berzinjuk entered the house. He recognized her when she

passed by the police station and without saying anything to anyone he came to

arrest her. She begged for pity, but to no avail. I approached him and

begged him to let her sleep in our home and to let her return to Minsk the next


In return I promised to give him suits that belonged to my father.

After a little bit of bargaining he agreed and left.

The next day, early in the morning, Karlova left Kurenets. Many days

later, the partisans murdered Berzinjuk.

Another bloodsucker was Shernegowicz. He was from Kasinjewitz village.

He was the very first to look for hiding places that were used by the

Jews. Every Jew that he met in the street he would beat up, and sometimes for

no reason he would kill him. The blood of many Kurenets residents stained

his hands. Whenever we found out that he was approaching, all the Jews

would fear for their lives and run to their hiding places.

My father and Nathan Gurevich had a factory that made soap, shoe

polish, ink, and other chemicals. For that reason they didn't have to do hard

labor, as the Germans needed them. They were allowed to continue factory

production. One time, the factory in the next town, which made similar products,

produced defective ink, so they ordered my father to go to Vileyka and correct

the problem. On his way, he met Shernegowicz. Although my father had

licenses and permits to go to Vileyka, Shernegowicz was unable to read the

documents so he tore them up and beat him mercilessly. Still, when he came back

alive, we were very happy.

There were almost no Jews left in Vileyka; most of them had been killed by

that point. So the Germans had no laborers. Now they took Jews from

Kurenets and made them live in Vileyka. At the beginning everyone in

Kurenets was fearful of moving to Vileyka, as it was known that this

was the town where the killing started. But slowly we realized that danger was

coming from every direction, and some felt it would be better to

separate the family to many different spots so someone would survive. I still

remember Pesja Nee Katrol Alperovich, the wife of Mikhail, she would say, "I

prefer that some of my children be in Vileyka and others in Kurenets. Maybe

we will be blessed that someone will survive. We kept hearing about slaughters

that occurred in the neighboring towns, we heard that a few survivors had

reached our town, and heard that others who were in hiding sent letters via

Christians to their relatives in Kurenets. We realized that our

chances of survival were minute, and we knew that the destruction of our town was

coming.Our Rabbi, Moshe Aron Feldman, the pride and glory of our town, his

poor soul left his body after many tortures. His body was found in the market

with broken arms and legs. Each day, there were new punishments and

tragedies of Joban proportions. One Jew was killed because he didn't have gold for

the Germans, and another Jew was killed because they found that he was

herding gold. One day, old Leib Matosov came to my father and demanded that we

leave Kurenets. He said that he knew of secret places in the forest near

his old factory that the Germans would never find. He said that we must not

sit here idly. We must go to our Christian friends, get rifles and wait for

summer to come. Maybe by then the Russians would return.

My father decided to join Leib Matosov, but just at that point, a

horrible thing occurred. Ziskind Alparovich, the son of Shimon, with his wife

Bashka Hannah, and her son Yikheil, Fabish Shulman with his wife and son

Hannan, Berka Hadash, and Joshua Kremer, the son of Mendel and Ashka, were

found hiding in the forest near Andreiki. There bodies were brought to Kurenets.

In the town, no one knew they left. They had left secretly but someone

reported their hiding place. The Germans wanted to make sure that we

knew we would be caught if we tried to escape. So now there was a deep

depression and many of those who had planned to escape now changed their minds.

There was only one group of young men whose spirits did not break, and they

continued to plot their revenge. Sometime in the summer, we found out

that Elich, the son of Ziskind Alparovich, was killed during a battle

between the partisans and the Germans. And we all found out that a group of young

men from the town, mostly members of Hashomer Hatzair, boys aged 17 and 18,

kept in touch with Russian soldiers that managed to escape the Germans and

hid in the villages. Together they planned guerrilla attacks against the

Germans. In one of these battles, Eliau was killed. From the boys who took part

in this partisan movement, the ones who survived were Zalman Gurevich,

Nachum Alparovich, Orchik Alparovich (who later received many commendations).

Amongst the group was Iskelin Einbender, who received many posthumous


When my father gave up on the idea of escaping, he started turning to

religion. Every day he would go to the Minyan and pray. Every day

there were new mourners and the line to say the Kaddish was getting longer

and longer. When it turned dark people would gather for the Minyan and

they would pray. With the first morning light the worshippers would


Each family started building hiding places and kept this information to

themselves. They would not tell of their hiding places to their

dearest friends, so no one, even if tortured would be able to tell of others'

hiding places. Some built hiding places under their homes, and the entrance

would lead through a cabinet. Some would be under beds, others inside ovens,

some in attics, in holes in their gardens or yards, and some still would

hide in sheds. I knew that everyone had hiding places, but I only knew where

our own hiding place was. At first it was very simple, kept between the oven

and the wall, in a room near the synagogue. It was very difficult to enter and

the place was very narrow; you could only stand there. Once Shernegowicz

started hunting for Jews not only in the road, but also in their own homes,

everyone realized that they must have hiding places to survive.

After several days passed, we decided to build our hiding place above the

furnace. For that we had to discontinue the use of the furnace, but we

still made it look like nothing had changed. We built a new wall and closed the

furnace and had a hiding place inside the chimney. We made a little

hole in it so we could have air, and the entrance to this place was through the

range top. My father always avoided this hiding place, saying it was as if

we were buried alive. Only one time did he use it, when one of the killers by

the name of Egov entered our home. We knew from survivors of neighboring

towns that the slaughters always started in early morning hours, so we kept

surveillance to see if the Germans were surrounding the town.

The night before the slaughter, 9/9/1942, between 3:30 and 4:00 in the

morning, my father realized that there was a lot of movement in the

market, and that many cars approached the town. That night the town was


by thick fog, and he woke us up and told us that this movement looked

very ominous, since he observed that these cars and trucks were loaded with

large barrels. Later on we found out that these barrels were filled with

incendiaries used to burn the victims. At that point, the Minyan of

prayers in our yard was crowded with Jews. Father quickly ran there to tell

them that they must escape. The Jews spread all over to return to their


My mother and I stood in the window waiting for his return. Daybreak

came and we could see him leaving the synagogue. All of a sudden came

Germans in uniforms. They caught him and took him with them. His desire to help

others lasted til his final moments on earth. When the Germans took him he

lifted his head to look at us, and this was our last goodbye.

During the winter of 1942, the Germans made a Christian man the head of

the factory. Prior to that, the man was a teacher and we knew him. His

name was Tkatchuk. When we saw the Germans take my father, my mother approached

Tkatchuk and asked him to save my father as a professional man. We

entered his room through our yard. He was already awake and said nothing to

us, but only sent us to his attic to hide. The attic was big and originally

two families, brothers Ziskind and Mendel Alparovich, used it. The one

window in the attic was very high and we couldn't see anything, but we could hear

horrible shrieks and screams and cries of children and women, and many

shots and sounds of cars going back and forth. And this occurred through the

entire day. Every moment of that day we feared that the door would

open and they would catch us. We also heard familiar sounds of different

Christian inhabitants that spoke Belorussian and were walking from home to home

to look for hiding Jews. The apartment of Ziskind Alparovich was empty since

the Germans killed the last of the people who lived there, the last

residence was Matarosz, a Christian Polish man who used to be the head of the public

school. During the German time he became the city mayor, but when the

Germans found out that he was involved in underground activities, they

killed him with his entire home.

Now only the watchman lived in the house. His name was Stach the

Short. He knew nothing of our hiding in the attic and we were very fearful

that he would decide to search the area and search the area. We lay like this

for two days. On the second evening we heard the Christians yelling while they

were looking for Jews. We practically stopped breathing. We could hear Stach

telling them that he would with pleasure give up any Jew to the Germans

if he caught one, but here there are no Jews and there is no reason to look

for them. The house, he continued, was under his watch the entire day and

he saw no one coming. He must have convinced the Christian mob that there are

no Jews because they left shortly to go to other homes while screaming,

"kill the Jews!" For three days and three nights we were hiding in the attic.

Each night Tkatchuk would open the door and give us bread but he never gave

us anything to drink. Probably since he was so fearful and confused he

forgot that we were thirsty. On Saturday evening we heard Tkatchuk and his

girlfriend fighting. His girlfriend had just arrived from Vileyka and

had found about our hiding in the attic and didn't like it. We knew that we

had to leave the place immediately. Later that night, Tkatchuk explained

that although the day of the slaughter was long gone, some of the Christian

population was continuing to look for Jews, so there is really no

reason for us to endanger ourselves and him too. We had to leave. I wanted to

leave the day before but my mother was very weak and refused to leave, but now we

had no choice. We decided to leave at 1:00 AM to the village Kalin. We

asked of one thing from Tkatchuk: to put a pail full of water in the yard to

quench our thirst. We said our goodbyes and drank. Stealthily we went to our


Our home was locked. We crossed our yard and then to the yard of Netka

Charnez and then to the ally and to the market near the house of Itzhak

Zimmerman (Charles Gelman's father). From afar in the pharmacy we could

hear the sounds of German soldiers. We walked barefoot and very quietly to

Kosita Street. We had to cross the train tracks without the guards detecting


This was the only road to Kalin. We crawled to the other side of the

road near the house of the track watchman and quickly crossed the tracks. We

were still nearby when all of a sudden a train began to a approach and the

whole area was lit. We quickly lay on the ground until the train left. We

continued going by the cemetery envious of all the people that had died

naturally. When we reached Kalin it was 3:00AM. I approached the window of the school where the Smetinko family now lived. I knocked on the door and the door was

immediately opened as if they were waiting for us. They were very happy

to see us and were very warm and understanding and encouraged us. They

thought that if they would not invite us to the apartment we would be insulted

to they invited us. But we refused. We asked to hide in the barn, which

was some distance from the house. The barn was big and full of hay and had a

pleasant smell of fields. So now after three sleepless nights, we quickly fell


I can't describe the beautiful way that the family treated us, and

the way they encouraged us and felt sympathy for us. They would say

"Remember. You are heroines. You didn't let them kill you. You survived. And this

is truly heroic. You must remember that you are heroines. You are not

victims, you are heroes." Every night at midnight the old man that was seventy

years old got up and took us out to breathe some fresh air and to relieve

ourselves. Three times a day our daughter would bring us food using

baskets or pails so none of the neighbors would realize that we were hiding


She brought the best of foods. The old man would sit with us and tell

us how during World War I he helped eighteen people hide under his barn, and

they all survived. Every few days he would go to Kurenets to see what was

going on there. He kept in touch with the Jewish pharmacist Lunya Shnayorson and

his wife, Riva, the only remaining living Jews in Kurenets. He told us the

good news that many survivors were going to gather in the forest. He also

told us some tragic stories. He told us about Meyir Tzirolnik from Dolhinov

Sreet. A Christian inhabitant of the town found his hiding place a few days

after the slaughter and took him to the Germans. He also said that a Christian,

Vlodka Stenkivitch, the son of Mishka murdered the entire Sandler and Bevinar

family when he found them hiding in the attic of the synagogue. He used his ax to kill


It was getting cold and rain began to become a frequent thing. Smetinko

and his daughter kept telling us, "Don't worry. You have a place to stay.

We will provide for you and you will be with us until the end of the war". We

saw how they risked their lives from pure desire to save us. Daily they were

fearful that the Germans would come looking for Jews. Smetinko's wife had heart

disease so they didn't tell her about our hiding there. Smetinko was

not the owner of the place. There was a woman that he had rented the place

from. This woman didn't know about our hiding there. Although she knew me from the

time I was a teacher at the school there and we had a good relationship.

After staying there for three weeks, the Harvest day came, and they needed to

use the barn where we were hiding. So the evening before, they took us to

the attic of the house, since they knew some strangers would come to the


The next morning we were awoken by the sounds of policemen and German

soldiers saying, "Where are the Jews hiding? Get out of there." We lay

in the attic quietly until they left. As soon as they departed, the homeowner

came to the attic. We were primarily frightened and didn't know what she

wanted but she explained her delight in knowing that we survive, and that she

also wanted to help us. We asked Smetinko to communicate with the other

surviving Jews and tell them that we want to meet with them. Although we really

appreciate what he had been doing for us, we couldn't risk his life any

longer. Meanwhile, the police went to the other side of the village. We

used the momentary sangfroid to run to the forest that was 100meters away

from the house. We decided to hide in the forest until nighttime and then we

planned on walking to the Bordina forest, where we knew the Jews were hiding.

Smetinko left for Kurenets. There he talked with Lunya Shnayorson, and

they arranged for a Christian man by the name of Ignale Birok to wait for us

in the field across from the Christian cemetery, and from there he would

take us to the forest where the other surviving Jews were staying. In the

evening, Smetinko's daughter and the homeowner, Mrs. Charivitz came to us and

dressed us in laborer clothes as if we were village girls. This was the season

of collecting potatoes so they gave us baskets filled with potatoes as if

we were returning from work. We were supposed to leave the village at

6:30pm, which is prior to the time when the Germans watch the train tracks. We

tied kerchiefs to our heads. We put our shoes in our baskets that were also

filled with food. We said our goodbyes and thank you's and left. I was very

fearful of meeting someone who was a resident of Ivonovitz since they all knew

me from the time I was a teacher there. But we passed the road and train

tracks safely. It became dark when we finally arrived to the road between

Kurenets and Vileyka, which were across from the graveyard. This was the spot

where we were supposed to meet Ignale Birok. We heard the sound of approaching

horse and buggy. We put our baskets by a tree and hid behind it. All of a

sudden a second carriage arrived with many passengers. They saw us and started

yelling at and chasing us. We ran to the fields, hiding behind bushes. All of a

sudden we heard our code words and saw Ignale Birok. We ran behind him

in the fields till we reached the forest of Bordina, and there he took us to

the family of Natan Gurevich, Rashka Alperovitz, Shoyl Gordin, Shimon

Alperovitz, the son of Zishka Aperovitz and Baska Chana, and a refugee family that

lived in Kurenets [Shalom Yoran's family]. The next day we all left for the

big pushtsta, a hiding place in the big forest, where we met the rest of

the survivors from the Kurenitz slaughter.




When we arrived at the forest, we found a few, very miserable,

Jews, hungry and dirty from the fires that were lit at night. The world into

which we came was very harsh, we had to drag our feet through the forest, go

in the middle of the night begging for bread or potatoes from peasants. Given

the fact that we didn't know the roads, we were afraid to fall in the hands

of hostile villagers or the police. Here the advantage of being a man was

evident. A man can demand and threaten, he can put a stick on his

shoulder instead of a gun, and in the dark of night, the peasant would give him,

because of fear or mistake, some food. This scheme couldn't work for us

women, and we didn't have gold or other objects to exchange for food

and other needed supplies. We looked for someone who would guide us at

least for the first time and take us to the village and in return we would share

with him the food we would receive. To our aide came Moshio and Salim, who

were the first ones to take us to Margi village. We decided to start walking

from both ends of the village, and to meet in the nearest exit to the

forest, going back together from there. When we left our hiding place in the

forest I paid attention to the paths, trees, and special bushes for use as road

marks on the way back, incase we lose Moshio and Salim. Luckily we met as

scheduled and got back safely to our camp. Since we started to know the terrain

well we no longer needed a guide and this ability helped us a lot.

In the first few days we didn't dare to light a fire in fear of the

shepherds. At nights the fires warmed us only in front, and the back

was already cold. Right from the start we walked barefooted, since our

shoes were lost during the first night, when we ran from Klini. We baked the

potatoes in the burning ashes under the fire. One evening, when one of the girls

who sat with us tried to take the potatoes out of the fire, unintentionally she

moved the hot ashes right on my bare feet. The burns were bad; there were no

medical supplies, and thus no way to put a bandage on. Mom had to walk

alone to the village to gather food. During one visit to Noviki village one

of the peasants recognized my mother and became very excited. He told her how,

many years ago, my father returned him a financial loss, and therefore he

fed us and promised to weave some sort of sandals for us. For our sorrow these

sandals didn't last long, and in the first winter in the forest I

walked on the snow with bare feet wrapped with old rags. During that time mom got

a pair of boots she used up to the liberation.

In that winter partisans came to the forest, and among them was one

from our hometown, Yakov Alperovitch. He offered to help us organize, and with

the help of the partisans to cross the front to Russia. This plan seemed to

us like salvation. We knew that the road east was be tough and that we'd

have to move in a big group, on damaged roads, and mostly at nights. In

addition, we had to equip our selves with food, but I couldn't go to the village,

being so badly burned, and so, we left with little food only. On the way we

passed a railroad and were ambushed in the first night. Some members of our

group managed to go through, but the majority, us included, stayed in the

forest, we were hiding in it all day long and didn't know that we were under

the Germans' noses. After a day of tension we went back to the poshtza from

which we left a day earlier.

The fear from the oncoming winter was great. The questions that

bothered us were: what will we do after the first snow falls and our tracks will

give us away to the local farmers when they come for wood, or the shepherds or the

Germans? From where will we get food for the winter? How will we build

a shelter for the cold nights to come? We had to find answers to these

questions. We had to make a permanent place for the winter. Some people

started planning for those measures. We lacked the tools and therefore

were hungry most of the time. We joined the Gurevich, Charnas and Shogol

families that were already equipped with working tools and started digging. The

ground was made from frozen clay, and the work went on slowly. I did my best

to put a shoulder in on the work. After the digging was done we needed logs to

build the inside of the hole. We learned to chop wood, saw it, and move to

the site. We needed clay, bricks and covers for oven, which will be used

for cooking and heating. The rest of the group without our help built the


After the zimlanka, measuring 3 on 3, was done, 18 people lived in it.

The part that was above ground level was covered with thin logs and moss,

on top was a layer of dirt for camouflage. Inside it was divided in two, in

the entrance stood the oven, and next to it the women were cooking potatoes

and the second part was made of double bunks. On top it was very warm, and

below it was very cold. The main food eaten was potatoes, but we didn't have

anything to cook it in until we received a small can. We also lacked a

knife, and it made it very difficult for the entire group, because they had to

share theirs with us. Finally the biggest problem was hygiene since we had no

soap, no combs, and spare clothing we could change into.

During one of the evenings we left, mom and me, to the village and came

back bruised and frightened. It appeared that Jews came into the village at

night and stole from the fences some laundry and tools and we paid for their

actions. On the way back in the forest we encountered a pack of wolves,

and saw their shining eyes. The sight was terrifying. The hunger made us

crazy, we had no people like Byelski, who helped and guided Jewish people.

Each time we entered a peasant's hut while they were eating, we blessed

them "beteavon", and hoped they would invite us in. During the winter we

were attacked and Jews from Kurenitz and the surroundings, who were hiding

but a few kilometers from us, were killed. It was our luck that the Germans

didn't reach us during that first winter in the forest. On the dawn of

Passover 1943, while we were sleeping, a partisan came from the nearby village

and informed us the Germans were coming. In a short distance there was a

swamp and by preplanned strategy we started running towards it. The German

gunfire was soon heard, we didn't know where to go, or even where we were, we

were like wild animals escaping a hunter. During our escape we discovered

suddenly that we were exposed and that the German dogs were on our trail. We

changed direction, doing our best to stay away from the shooting, and realized

that Leah Gurevich was with us. To ease her run she had to throw away her

coat and by that saved her life.

With night fall the barking of the German dogs faded away and we

understood that the Germans had left the forest. After recognizing the spot where

our hiding place was we found that it was all ruined and that one of our

members was taken alive by the attackers. In another hiding place, a few

hundred meters from ours a four-year-old girl was killed in her mother's arms

and the mother was left alive.





Our life became a living hell. We were too afraid to go to the village

even during nighttime. We had no food. We had to switch hiding places very

often in fear of the shepherds. After a few weeks we settled on the edge of

the swamp and from there started slowly to go out to the villages. In the

villages we heard that typhus was diagnosed among them, but the need for food

was stronger than the need to stay healthy, and so, one day, I was the

first one to catch the disease and bring to our camp. Not only did we lack

doctors and medical equipment, we were even short of drinking water by living

in that foul swamp. When my temperature had risen and I became unconscious, a

wooden mat was made for me. After a couple of days a message that partisans or

cops were coming scared everybody. They all ran for their lives and only my

mother and I stayed. A group of partisans did show up, but after seeing I was

infected with typhus they quickly took off. The last of them approached

my mom and gave her six slices of bread with butter and boiled eggs, and

poured some sugar to her hand, asking her not to tell anyone about this. (A

long time after this event we were invited to a family relative in Israel

and told this partisan story, and suddenly, one of the guests, named Berel,

turned very excited and said he was the partisan who helped us). After that my

mom caught the disease as well, and so did the rest of our camp, but

luckily none of us died of it.

In the end of our first year in the forest my mother got very weak and

couldn't go to the villages any more. In those days the partisans

became very strong and we could walk in daylight to the villages. They were

practically controlled by the partisans and the Germans were afraid to enter them.

Then we moved to Zaziria forests. One day Salim came to our camp, after a

long absence. He brought us a leather gun pouch and a piece of flannel, from

which I sewed my mom some underwear. With time my boots were repaired with


piece of leather, and held on to the end of the war.

A short time after moving to Zaziria forests came the youth from

Vilna. Some members of our group were accepted into the partisans, and us, the

fires left the women, old men and children, again.

Then, one morning, a rumor started that Germans equipped with many

weapons were coming from the fronts to fight the partisans and the forest

inhabitants. The siege started in surprise, and we could see everybody

running away. We started running as well, without knowing where to. In

the general rush we managed to see Shogol with a group of partisans

signaling us to follow. The partisans didn't let us, the Jews, to go near them, but

we followed in their path into the huge swamp. In wintertime, when the

ground was covered with a thick layer of ice, we would use a certain trail to

go in the swamp, but the locals knew about a different way to enter the swamp

during the summer. This path was the escape route of the partisans. Our

feet sank deep in the mud and walking was very difficult, the two kids in

our group had great difficulties to move on and we just barely made it to

the rest place. The partisans stayed away from us and we sat on the wet

moss, hungry and tired. In the first night we were afraid to put on a fire.

The day after showed up in our place a Jew from the town of Uzla, named

Shulman. He had a rich experience in life, after spending years in a Siberian camp

in Russia. During the 30's he was sent back to Poland and ran a mill over

there. When the Germans conquered the area he and his family hid in the swamp

with the help of a Christian friend. They built their camouflaged tent so

well that even we, who were right next to them, didn't notice it. They lived

off their old property that was partially hidden with their gentile friend.

The following day Shulman brought us a bucket of soup made of flour and

water, and some bread for the kids, and we were happy. During the next few

days we heard shooting and explosions from afar, but the Germans didn't get to

our spot. After an eight day siege the Germans withdrew, leaving their casualties behind as well as Jewish and partisan casualties.

Later we were told that many of the Germans drowned in those swamps. My

friend who had come from Vilna only a short while before the siege had

also been killed along with many others.

After the siege the partisans started regrouping in the forest where we

were hiding. The peasants were afraid of the partisans, and dared not

expelling us without giving us some supplies. Life was held out in daylight and we

were much eased. Once I went with a boy from our camp to Brusi village, and

suddenly noticed a group of cops sitting around a table laid with vodka

and food. They started interrogating us about our camp and of the partisan

brigade in the area. I told them that we only came to seek a piece of

bread and that we know not any partisans. My answer didn't satisfy them and

they started shouting and demanding information, threatening to kill us

"like dogs" if we didn't answer. Since we told them nothing, they put us

against the wall, held a gun at us and started counting: "one, twoâ€| well

guys, it's good you didn't say anything about the partisans, we heard you Jews

will give them away for a piece of bread and there you stood honorably in the

test." I started crying from the insult and the fear and we took off to the


In that same time we started planning a hiding place for our second

winter in the forest. This time the work was much easier. Now we choose the spot

in soft ground, thus making it easy to dig in. We also had sufficient

tools with us. With Haya Gurevich and her relatives we built the bunker and

together got hold of a horse and wagon. We drove to the burned village of Loje to

disassemble ovens that were exposed after the big fire and use the

bricks to build our shelter. With the iron we found we took the ovens apart and

put the bricks on our wagon, and suddenly the horse refused to move on. And so

we went on by pulling the wagon until we got back to our camp with the

precious bricks.

The final result was that our shelter was satisfactory, we were only

nine inside, and with time we gathered enough wood for the winter.

I got a new needle as a gift and started repairing our worn out

clothes. In our free time we sat on the mat or near the oven, and I would tell

stories to the two kids and practicing mathematics with them. To the adults I told

the contents of movies and books from before the war, and singing songs in

Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish expressed the sorrow and nostalgia.







To our aid came the new law in those days about sending Polish citizens

from before the war back to Poland. We were among the first to enlist in

Kurnitz, with the fear of being led to the "white bears" in our hearts. The news

about the end of the war caught up with us in the train station of Bialistok

and from there we were led to Lodj. I started looking for a connection to

the Zionist movement. There I also met Haia and Shimon Plevski, and Lible

Auigenfeld. Shimon instructed me how to make contact with those in

charge of sending people to Israel. Knowing Hebrew opened many doors for me, and

I was accepted immediately for a group, under the condition that my mom would

be sent after a while, when the roads will be safer. It was during the

days when those left in the concentration camps were liberated. I didn't agree of

course to the offer of going out without my mom and thus we were joined

to a group of 10 and with faked red cross I.D. traveled to southern Poland

towards the border with Czechoslovakia in coal trains. This happened after the

first riots of Polish people against Jews, in the end of the war. The fear of

being murdered after being so-called liberated escorted us on the roads. In

the border we exchanged our documents with others, proving us to be Greek

citizens going back home. We went on through Czechoslovakia, onto

Hungary and then to Romania.

In our next stop, Urdia-mara, we stayed for a month, because the road

to Israel via the black sea was blocked. The Russians were already in


After a month in Romania we came back to Budapest, and from Hungary to

Gretz in Austria. We stayed in the luxurious "Vitzer" hotel, which used to

host Goebbels. The hotel was luxurious but we didn't have any food, and so

were transferred to the international refugee camp in Lankovitz. After

staying there for a week we were returned to Gretz. Here was the main

headquarters for the Zionist organizations taking care of the illegal immigration to

Israel. We received an order as partisans to cross the border to Italy.

This border was closed for a month and all the trains carrying refugees were

sent back to Austria. The British liberation forces, posted in Italy and

Austria at that time, got hold of the connection with the Jewish soldiers from

Israel, and found out that they were helping in moving the remnants

from the Holocaust to Israel. That was why the border was closed for us.

Following an order, we moved on to Vylech in a train and from there on to the border

on foot. We had to cross the border on a rope bridge through the Alps. We

got to the bridge by daylight, but the guard in charge sent us back to


During that day we hid in a nearby forest, and at night when we got

back to the bridge there was no guard. We passed the border without any

problems to Italy. A light rain was falling and we were in total darkness. We could

not advance and waited for the morning to come. When dawn came we

recognized by a description we received prior to leaving our whereabouts. We stayed all day long in the mountains, and at nightfall where about to descend towards

Terevizo without entering it. We assigned into couples when suddenly a

guy from our group arrived with the message that a car from the brigade is

waiting for us in the exit from Terevizo, and indeed it did. We were

put inside enclosed pickup trucks and drove on to Puntebe, where was

situated an Israeli unit from the brigade that took care of the illegal immigration

to Israel.

Since the border we crossed was closed for a month, family members who

passed were cut-off from their relatives in Austria. When they found out our

group managed to pass, many of the refugees came to see us. An acquaintance I

met gave me rejoicing news. He told me that my brother from Israel is a

soldier in the British Army and is in Milan, He knows we're saved and is

looking for us. This knowledge struck us numb. My brother was in Israel since 1933,

but since the war broke we lost contact with him. The excitement was in its


In the morning we found a letter from my brother, where he asked us to

wait for him in Puntebe, if we reach it before he does, given he fact he's

looking for us in Austria. When my brother, who was equipped with British Army

authorization, couldn't find us in Gretz, he came back in a train to

the border. On the way, in Clegenport, he met Rivka Alperovitch and the

others, and found out from them that we were about to cross the border on that


On the train he met a group of partisans who tried as well to cross the

border, like us. For a bribe, which was paid to the train worker, the

partisans were loaded into an enclosed wagon and my brother sealed it

from the outside. When they passed the border my brother opened it up and

let them out, and thus all were witness to the exciting meeting with my brother.

My brother took us to Milan, where his unit was stationed, and for two

months he and his friends, among who was Hertzel, my husband, tried to make

our stay as pleasant as possible, but then my mother had a heart attack. On

October 25th 1945 we left Milan. After my mom's recovery we traveled to Rome

and Venice and on November the 8th we arrived in Israel due to my Brother,

with a legal status. After 62 hours in rough sea, in a military boat carrying

800 people; we reached the shores of Israel. From the port of Haifa we were

transferred to Atlit, and the day after received permission to leave.

We had taxis put up for us, and since my mother had a sister in Tel-Aviv, we

drove there.

On the way we enjoyed the orange groves we saw for the first time in

our life. It was a Friday, and from the windows of every house we saw

candles lit for Shabat. The reunion between my mother and her sister, as well as

our reunion with the rest of the family was hearty and joyous.

These were our first steps in Israel.


Translated from Hebrew by Gil Gorv in honor of his grandfather Gershon

Gurevich and the family that spent two years with Rifka hiding in the