|English Translation of the Letter, as published in Dovid Horodoker Yizkor Memorial Book, as published in the Detroit Jewish Forward Newspaper...|
Translated from Yiddish to English: Janie Respitz M.A.
Russian translation: Dr. Vladimir Birko
Typing and editing: Gilad Ben-Shach
Memoirs of Mikhoel Nosanchuk
When the Soviets first took power, they initially allowed the Jews to work and run their own businesses. Later, they slowly began to liquidate the big factories and the larger stores. It took some time, but one evening, a few soviet officials came into our mill. When I saw them, my heart sank. I knew the day would eventually come when I would have to give over the mill. Something poked in my heart. Not even asking if our mill grinded straw or corn, one of the officials shouted: "Stop the machine!" He had had some corn and asked us to grind it. The machinist stopped the machine. "Where is your boss?" he asked. I replied that I was the owner. They then took out a piece of paper and read: "From this moment on, the mill belongs to the Soviet Union."
I had to give everything over to them; the corn, the wheat and the machines. I no longer had any rights to own them. The machines now belonged to the government. I gave them everything. I even handed over my keys. One of them, went over to Shmuel and proceeded to search his pockets. When they were not looking, I took the money out of my pocket and gave it to our guard. When they searched me, they found nothing.
It took a few hours for them to write everything down. After I signed all the papers, they came home with me. My sister Gonia had already heard what had happened. She was very upset. They looked at us smiling and asked if we had sold everything. Then they told us not to worry and we should be happy to be alive. Meanwhile, they began searching our home. Opening up all the cupboards. Gonia joked that she was embarrassed our cupboards were empty. The children then asked us what they were looking for. They were frightened. My brother-in-law Berl, had a few good luck charms. The officials thought they were worth a lot of money. These bureaucrats brought a peasant named Pavel with them. They told this peasant that from that day on he would be our boss. They asked us to stay on as workers, weighers, to help them run the mill. Pavel took the key and tried to turn it. He then began to cry and said: "How did I become the manager of your mill?" I calmed him and explained that it was not his fault and that we had no choice. The next morning the whole town knew what had happened. People passed me by in the streets and shook their heads in disbelief. Some even wiped tears from their eyes. Others made fun of our new manager. Our new manager knew nothing about running a mill. I just remained silent, and tried not to get involved.
Pavel was not a foolish man. He understood that he had to be good to me. He told me from the start that I should do what I want, as long as it is good. I began to work and everything went as normal. Gonia received her portion as well. Pavel made sure that Gonia and the children were well looked after. He made sure they lacked nothing.
I was able to go home when I wanted. We lived very peacefully together with Pavel until the devil sent us a new boss. A miserable Jew. When this character learned I had been the previous owner he let me go. Now without work I had nothing more to do in Ruble. Gonia suggested that we should all return to Stolin. So one morning, we sold our bit of poverty and moved back to Stolin. I immediately began to look for work. All of my friends had big positions as managers in factories, but I couldnít find a job. My pedigree was not so impressive. I had no luck in Stolin. When I couldnít find work I decided to move to Horodok. In Horodok I met an acquaintance, who told me about some work back in Rubleh. This job consisted of preparing and carrying wood from the forest.
Gonia got settled, her daughter Chaya got a job as a teacher and the rest of the children went to school. A militia from the NKVD would eat at her home. Her son Shmuel found a job in Pinsk and every month sent a few hundered rubbles home. Our brother Maishl and our father helped her out. The children and I lacked nothing. Our neighbours were a family from Siberia, a couple with a few children. We lived very well with them. In order not to bother us, especially motherís kosher kitchen, my father built them an oven of their own. This made them very happy. My father was feeling good. He no longer had to worry about the mill. We lived for each day. Our parents were happy that Moishl and I were both working.
April 2nd 1941
In the evening, I came home, pulled off my boots and lay down to rest. In walked a sergeant holding papers in his hands and smiling. I immediately understood that something was about to happen. He told me I should grab something to eat and when I finished he would show me something. I took the paper from his hand. I was being called to meet with the commission on the 13th of April. I was being drafted. Truthfully said, I was happy. Going into the forest day after day was getting to me. One of my tasks had been to run from house to house asking people to go to work. This work paid very little and nobody wanted to come out to work. I often had to carry all the wood by myself. Five thousand metres of wood had to be laid every month, and I was very tired. The Gentiles didnít go to work for the money, if they did come it was to do me a favour. If I had the choice between work or army, I would have chosen the army, but I didnít believe they would take me into the military. I didnít believe they would take me into the military.
When I stood in front of the commission my heart pounded when they asked me what my occupation was. I told them the truth. I explained that I worked for my father at the mill but the mill had been on my name. After the interview I received a red card which meant all was good. I had two days to appear with my unit in Horodok. I was ready to go to who knew where? Nobody knew. All I knew was that I wanted to get home quickly to be with my parents and family for the first Passover Seder. At the Seder I didnít tell my parents anything about the army. My sister-in-law Frumke was there with the children. For the first time my brother Moishl was not at home for the Passover Seder. My sister Genia came with the children. She told us how in Stolin people were being called up to the army. There was even talk of war. I wanted to see my friends, and tell them my news. I went to Lasieh, my last love. I sat and talked with the guys. We met late at night. When I told them I had been drafted they didnít believe me. They all laughed and wondered what kind of soldier I would be. We sat and talked all night about many things. Was there really going to be a war? Or were they just going to break a few bones.
I didnít sleep very much that night. I went to my sister Gonia and told her the secret. They started to pack up some food. My mother was upset. I hadnít told them the night before. Had she known earlier she could have prepared more food. Chaya, my sister Goniaís eldest daughter, sat that whole day of Passover and sewed me a backpack. All the neighbours came by. The house was packed. Father sat quietly, with tears flowing from his eyes. My friends waited for me outside the house to accompany me to the train. Around two oíclock I said good-bye to my father. He was too weak to walk with us. He sat on the bridge with tears in his eyes. My mother, Frumke, and Gonia accompanied me part way. When I said good-bye, I used all my strength not to cry. Among my friends the guys were laughing and the girls were wiping away tears. That is how I left Stolin on April 14th, 1941.
On the train, I felt torn to pieces. Tearing myself away from friends and family was difficult. I told myself it would not be long before we would be together again. The place where I had to meet my unit in Horodok was packed. On that same day five hundred soldiers were being mobilized. The city was full of people with huge packs packed with bread and sala (pig fat). Beside every pack was a recruit with his family sitting and eating sala and bread. Everywhere you looked mothers were crying. The boys were being called up one after the other. When all the paper work was done they asked the families to leave. It became very noisy with the screams and cries of parting. The orchestra began to play and we had to march to the music. The streets were packed with people yet at that moment I felt very sad and lonely as my close friends and family were not with me.
We walked quietly. A mother broke into our line to kiss her son while bitterly weeping. I never imagined this would take place. Everyone was feeling something. There was no war. This was much more emotional than it should have been.
We began to travel and within a few minutes we were far from town. Far from our loved ones but nobody knew where we were going. When we arrived in Lakhve we were told to sit in wagons. Meanwhile the station was empty. I lay down, put my head on my backpack, and took a nap. Then, I wrote a post-card home. I was with two Gentile boys that I knew from Rubleh. They stayed by me the whole time. My backpack compared to theirs looked empty. There was even a little guy whoís backpack weighed about ten kilos. While we waited for the train they all went into their bags and once again began to stuff their faces with bread and sala. At dawn a group of forty men arrived. Once again we lay on the floor and slept. They woke us at every station, where more men boarded the train. Each time, we heard the crying voices of mothers saying good-bye to their sons.
In Yanave we were held up for a few hours. We were able to go out of the train and look around. I couldnít believe my eyes! My brother Maishl was going from car to car looking for familiar faces. He had a feeling he would find someone he knew. We fell into each otherís arms and Maishl began to cry. "For whom did you leave your parents? Woe is me! What will become of our parents?" My brother gave me a few hundred rubble in case I would need the money. He knew we were headed toward Kobrin. "Be a Ďmentschí and try to come home." We said good-bye and the train pulled out of the station. My brother ran after the train weeping bitterly. Approximately five kilometres from Kobrin we had to build an army camp for about six thousand men and an airfield. At first they divided us into a battalion and later into smaller companies. They gave us things and put us to work building barracks. We were to build barracks until the first of May. We had to march six kilometres back and forth daily.
May 1st was the official opening of the new barracks. That evening, they showed films and brought in actors to entertain. We worked day and night. When the airfield was almost ready the word was that we would be soon going home. I wrote home three times a week. I also received letters quite often. By this time, a lot of my friends were mobilized. Some were sent to Brisk, near the German border.
Saturday night, June 21st 1941, I received a letter from my friend Nisl Malotchnik. He wrote: "our neighbours are walking on our heads" (He meant that the Germans were dropping bombs), and the talk was something was about to happen. That night we lay on our beds and I told everyone about Nislís letter, about impending war. Not anticipating anything, we all fell asleep. Suddenly, there was a loud boom and the windowpanes shook. Soon after there was another boom, and then another. At first we thought that this was thunder. Neither dead nor alive, we all ran out of the barracks. It was then that we noticed that airplanes were bombarding. What a terrible noise. I ran outside. It was four oíclock in the morning, and the German messershmitzen were dropping bombs like flies and shooting from machine guns. We went to hide in the cornfields near our barracks. Suddenly all was quiet. Fifteen minutes later the airplanes returned shooting at our barracks. We didnít know what to do. The boys were tearing at their hair. It was so noisy. Our bombardiers grabbed the women and children, packed them into cars and escaped toward Pinsk. There were small Russian tanks in the forest. Seeing there was nowhere to run they returned after a short time. Fifty men remained in the forest and began to head toward Munave. When we left our barracks the peasants who lived in the area went in and stole everything they could.
The bombing from the airplanes continued all day as well as machine gun fire from the German planes. The planes flew very low and shot a lot. The Red Army ran deeper and deeper into Russia. We, the working battalion remained without a leader. No one showed any interest in us. We began to head toward home. What will be will be. We were a few guys from Stolin who stuck together. We were also with a guy from Velemish. He was able to guide us home by the sun.
After the first day of walking, I had white blisters on my feet. The sun was burning, my shoes had shrunk. I eventually took them off and walked barefoot. At first everything was o.k. but then my feet began to burn like fire. We continued walking for eight days, from Kobrin to Stolin. My feet were so sore, and swollen, I walked like a drunk. We walked very slowly as everyone had the same problem. We all walked with rags wrapped around our feet. The peasants we met were friendly, and gave us food and drink. They were happy to see that we were from the Red Army. We were not German. We walked mainly at night, we tried to be careful not to fall into German hands. Us Jews, would stop in small villages, where the peasants would feed us. The peasants gave us bad news that the German army had already penetrated deep inside Russia. They talked with us openly, as if we were Bolsheviks, not realizing we were Jews. They told us they believed that it was the Jewsí job to go to war. This made us feel uncomfortable.
We arrived at a shtetl Faretch where the river flowed in the same direction we were walking. We asked the local people, how far this river flowed. We decided to travel by water. We found a wooden raft whose chain had been cut. With large sticks we began to paddle down the river. We didnít have to paddle hard, because we were sailing with the current. We sailed all night stopping occasionally to empty the water from the raft. We were finally able to rest our feet. By daylight, the German planes were flying again. The planes were flying so low, we thought they could see us. One of our friends became frightened and confused and jumped into the river. The raft filled with water and floated away. We had to swim to shore. Two of us swam to one river bank and the others to the other side. There was so much mud that the mosquitoes started to stick to our skin. I had seen mosquitoes before, but never ones this big. They were biting without mercy. Water, mud and weeds were everywhere. In the morning we thanked God that the sun rose and warmed our bones. Even the mosquitoes let up a little. We cursed our friend that had jumped into the water.
An old farmer had saw us standing on the river banks. We began to shout at him and he came to us. We told him what had happened and he advised us not to travel by raft any longer because there was a bridge up ahead and he knew the Germans were up on the bridge. He said he would take us to where we could walk. On the eighth day I thanked God that things worked out the way they did. We dragged ourselves to a spot not far from Stolin. I took off my shoes, and slowly crawled on all fours. I crawled all the way home, my heart pounding. God only knew what was doing at home.
When I arrived at home it was very noisy. People were running around everywhere. People noticed that I had come from far away. All the children came running towards me, Gonia, Frumke and mother as well. They dragged me home, I looked terrible. I was sunburnt, unshaven with swollen feet. Gonia put compresses on my feet and people came by hoping to hear some news from far away. I didnít have much to tell them. We received sad news, that the Germans killed the Jews of Brisk, Kobrin, Yanave and Motele. Stolin became a place for thousands of refugees, especially the youth who were trying to run for the borders. When news hit that the Russians were opening the borders, all hell broke loose. Anyone who had the strength, tried to find a way to escape. Many fifteen and sixteen year old girls left their homes, and ran toward the Polish-Russian border. When they arrived at the border, they were not allowed into Russia and faced great disappointment. They were all sent back. My sisterís children Chaya and Freidele tried to run away but had to come back.
Meanwhile, Maishl came home. He also had wounded feet. Shmuel, my sisterís son, came from Pinsk. Shmuel asked me to run away with him, but I could not. Firstly, I couldnít imagine leaving my parents, and secondly my feet were still bleeding, and I had no energy. My sister said nothing to Shmuel. No one was able to give Shmuel advice. Anyone who could, ran away. Shmuel ended up leaving with about a hundred young men. It was horrible to watch Shmuel say good-bye to his mother. She had seven small children. My sister had enough strength to tell Shmuel he should try to save himself. When he left, he said good-bye to everyone for good. I saw Shmuel after the war. We were the last to leave Stolin. With great fear we wondered what would be. Meanwhile, the Germans were moving deeper into Russia. They were almost at Kiev. With the Germans invading, the peasantsí joy was increasing daily. At first the Red Army reappeared, but they were retreating slowly.
Various events were happening. We tried to organize ourselves. We organized street patrols. The Russians left behind a lot of weapons, and we were prepared to use them. But a group of non-Jews also organized themselves. They would sneak into the Jewish streets at night and beat up Jews, break windows, and rape women. One Sunday I was sitting on a bridge with my brother Maishl, my sister, my sister-in-law, the children and our parents. A group of bandits came by and demanded we give up our weapons. We answered that we had no weapons. One of them picked up a stick, and hit my brother on the head. The children began to scream. They continued to beat us. A few Jewish boys joined us, there was quite a fight. My father, an old hero from way back, found an oar and began to swing it left and right. One of the guys was bleeding. I donít remember if it was me or Maishl that made that pig bleed. They soon realised that they shouldnít mess with us. They ran away. We washed and cleaned ourselves. Iím sure, my father had prepared this oar in advance.
Not long after a group of bandits came to our house. I was home alone with Maishl, two against a hundred. I told Maishl that we should not be fools and we should run away. They approached us and attacked like wild animals. One held a revolver at Maishl. His wife Frumke came in screaming. Her screams distracted the murderer, and she grabbed the revolver from his hand. Meanwhile, a second band gathered on another street. On that street, the Jews had the upper hand. They made so much noise that their attackers became confused. Maishl ran into the garden jumped over the fence and ran into our stall. I joined him in the hay and remained there. The murderers looked around and could not find us. When they could not find us, they went to my parents and asked where their sons were. They then proceeded to beat our parents.
When night fell I heard that things became quiet. I went home to find they had broken everything in the house. I then returned to the stall. Mother called to us as if she was talking hens. Lay still they are still here pretending to shout at the chickens but actually warning us. Mother came into the stall and asked us to go down. Moishl came out of his hiding place and went to sleep at home. We were sure they would return at night. Maishl and I decided to spend yet another night hidden in the stall, yet we knew we would have to escape around eleven oíclock at night. The bandits surrounded our house and once again robbed us. When they came to the garden, I helped Maishl dig a hole into the next garden. I peeked out of the stall and saw where the bandits were situated. I finally got tired and left. I came into the house, and saw how frightened my sisterís children were. What a horrible night. I couldnít believe I was still alive. I could not remain in Stolin. The bandits were looking for me. I decided to leave Stolin for Ruble. My heart was heavy, but as soon as I arrived in Ruble I felt freer. Things were quiet in Ruble. Compared to what we saw in Stolin, Ruble was paradise. All the familiar peasants in Ruble greeted me warmly.
I met up with a non-Jew who had been working in our mill. He gave me the key to our mill. I took the key, and all the peasants were very happy to see me. Some were so naive to believe that we could go back to old times. I took the key to Goldeís son Yakov, and asked him what he thought. Take if they give. When Yakov saw the key in my hand his whole face changed. He did not like the whole situation. I then said to Alexander letís go to work. I then returned the key and told him to do what he wants.
There was not enough bread. My parents and Gonia could not do very much. I began to bring bread and flour back to Stolin. I brought as much as possible. Half of Stolinís eyes widened when they saw the packages I was bringing. Mother no longer had the strength to deliver the flour from door to door. In order to get by, the Jewish community of Stolin, began to bribe the bandits with whisky, rings and watches. Meanwhile, police were becoming organized in Ruble. They became nasty toward the Jews. They would beat up on old Jews but luckily they had respect for me. The bandits did not let up.
The Germans had a very difficult time fighting a war in the mud. The German tanks went very slowly through the swamp. We heard the engines of the German tanks from miles away. Out of fear, we spent several nights in the forest. When in the forest, I would sit for long hours and think what would become of us. The peasants were showing some kindness but not as much as earlier. They looked forward to the Germans arriving. They prepared flowers, butter, milk and eggs. They would often stand around laughing. I couldnít laugh. I didnít know what lay ahead. The few Jews in Ruble continued to work very hard. Shoemakers, tailors, everyone worked. Aunty Goldeís son Yakov, worked day and night.
The Chassidim would sit around the table talking about the miracles of the German army. They compared the situation to the story of the Maccabies. They didnít want to believe what was coming. They didnít believe the stories we were hearing about the Jews of Warsaw. Meanwhile, there was no good news. The dark clouds were approaching Horodok. Horodok was becoming noisy and unsettled. The Russians had been back in Horotok and brought prisoners to chop down the forest. One prisoner whose name was Vanko escaped and hid with a gentile from Ruble named Ivan. He joined a group of bandits that attacked the Jews. They were surprised to see that even the Jews of Ruble had some weapons.
One Saturday night, I was sitting at my aunt Goldeís. Suddenly I heard children shouting: "the Germans are coming!" I looked out the window, and saw many soldiers surrounding the village. The peasants were sure nothing would happen to them. They thought they would be able to leave. But the Germans let no one in and no one out. The soldiers and police ran around banging on the windows shouting for all the Jews to come out. We had no choice. Yankl, Avremele, Yehuda and myself all went out together. The Germans were standing in the middle of the village. They would not let us walk together. Each person had to walk alone. With our hands up in the air we had to walk toward the church. I walked with my head down, in great shame. Our Christian neighbours were looking out of their windows. The soldiers surrounded us from all sides. I looked around and saw everybody there. I looked at all the faces, particularly the young ones. The only one who didnít look frightened was Yehuda. He even tried to smile, and have a conversation with a soldier. The soldier quickly silenced him. Soon a German officer asked who among us speaks German. Meir said he did. Someone had told the Germans that the Jews had weapons. They went searching the Jewish houses for weapons and said if they found any we would be shot.
Looking around we noticed that the Rabbi was not among us. The Rabbiís wife said he was hiding and soldiers were sent to get him. When they found him they beat him. We were all standing around worrying about our fate. After waiting for a long time, the officer returned and said he did not find any weapons and that we can all go home. He didnít have to say it a second time we all quickly ran home. Most of the peasants were happy we survived this ordeal, some were disappointed. I noticed these reactions and remembered them. I realised things could get worse.
The next Saturday they called all the Jews out again. On that second Shabbat they called the Jews out for a meeting at the Synagogue. Instead of going to the synagogue, I decided not to go to the meeting, and headed down the street toward the mill. If anyone asked where I was heading, I would just answer I was going through the gates. If anybody asked why I did not come to the meeting I would just pretend I didnít know about it. The main reason, I didnít want to go to this meeting, was because among the bandits, there was a man they called "The Ram". This man had once attacked my father and then was sentenced to six months in jail. I didnít want to meet him. He was waiting for the right moment to catch me.
When I arrived at my own mill, I had to sneak in. the machinist sat and worked. I felt like a stranger in my own mill. I began to work as well. Soon a policeman entered with a stick. He had a little respect for me. He then asked why I didnít come to the meeting. I told him that I didnít want to go, and I asked him if he had come to get me. The policeman then said: "I told them I would bring you." At that moment, I was feeling strong and I responded: "Tell them I didnít know." "Good" responded the policeman. "Donít go away," he said as he left the mill. I quickly looked out the window to see if he was returning. I saw uncle Yosl through the window. I took great pity on him, he couldnít even speak. He was beaten up. He just shook his head as if to say look what they did to me. They gathered up the Jews in the Synagogue, and Vanko took a little bit of merchandise from everybody, suits, money. Everybody carried something in his hand. Everyone had his own needs in mind. I donít know if it was a dream or a vision but then and there, I had a clear image of what was to come. Nobody believed me. There were Jews carrying food to the partisans, there were even witnesses who saw people carrying food. Jews were not permitted to carry anything out of the village. When the commander would see us leaving the village, we would tell him that we were going fishing. Once when I was out fishing, they told me I could go anywhere I want. So every morning I took some bread and went behind the village. Yakov would laugh at me. "We will soon have fish for supper", he said.
What were we to do? How can I save myself? For hours I was upset with the fact that I didnít go with the army. But so far, our situation was not so bad. I would take all that I could from the mill. The Gentiles of Ruble were good to me. I was happy to still be in the village. Maishl stopped hiding, and began to help the Jews of Stolin. Money was still helpful. We were able to pay off the police in gold. At times even the bandits could be bribed. There was no way out.
The Russian bandits were getting closer to the town of David Horodok and were shooting at the town with artillery. They were so close, it seemed like thousands of soldiers were surrounding the city. But the bandits began to panic and left the city. They had burned a few houses, but when they left we felt our salvation had come. We knew we would never have our old life again. With all the shortcomings of the Soviet Regime, it was paradise compared to what we were seeing. We would give up everything just to go back to what was.
Maraike and his band returned unwillingly and with shame. They used the moment to travel to Luninietz where the S.S. was stationed. They informed the S.S. that the Jews of Horodok were armed with grenades, and were in contact with the Russian partisans. The S.S. sent troops to Horodok. By Sunday morning six a.m. Horodok was surrounded by S.S. officers. They went from house to house, taking out the men, as if they were taking them to work. Some men were taken out in their underwear. They searched everywhere. It was very hard to hide. They gathered a group of 1,250 men ranging in age from fourteen until old age. These unlucky men, believing they were going to work, grabbed bread merchandise and money. Perhaps there will be something to buy? Upon departure, they were not allowed to take anything. This is how the Jews of Horodok were taken away. Chaim went after them to see what would happen. The men were stripped naked, and shot. Some were buried alive, fighting death. The earth moved for a few hours.
After the murder they went into the Jewish homes and told the sad widows they had fifteen minutes to leave town. The sick who could not leave, were murdered. Children had to bury their own relatives. Gentiles from surrounding towns came to fill their sacks with Jewish goods.
At the time, nobody in Ruble knew what had taken place in Horodok, therefore, nobody thought about leaving. Everybody was home, working, trying to earn just a little more money. That Sunday, I went out of the village like always. The Gentiles looked healthy and were very happy. I couldnít understand their laughter. I went into aunt Goldeís house and there was Yakov working as usual. The sly Gentiles, knew what was about to happen, but they wanted to get just a little more work out of Yakov. I watched him work, and wondered how he could be so relaxed at such a time. I said to Yankl: "Come, letís go fishing". Yankl laughed at me. Yankl said you go fishing Iíll catch up to you with the wagon when I go to collect. The Gentiles laughed at Yanklís joke.
I couldnít sit. I took a piece of bread, and went out of the village. I had the desire to catch some fish. I sat and thought how nice it was to be alone. Away from the police, and the stares of the Gentiles. Meanwhile, it started to rain. At first I took shelter in the trees. Then it started to pour. The rain didnít bother me at all. It was around four oíclock in the afternoon, but the dark rain clouds made it feel like night. I didnít want to return to the village. Suddenly, I heard shooting from nearby. Something pulled at my heart. This was a different type of shooting, three shots followed by silence, another three shots followed by silence, again and again. I hid deeper in the bushes. The rain chilled my body, the gunshots chilled my blood. I tried to take shelter to warm myself up. It became late.
I slowly made my way back to the village. I saw Levin. He asked me if I had heard the shots. He had also been fishing. When he asked me what I though it could have been I told him I did not know. I said I would return to the village to see what had happened. Simon looked at me with wonder. If everything is good we will hear and if everything is bad why would you want to go. He saw me shivering from the cold. He took off his sweater and gave it to me to wear. His stall was not far and he invited me in to warm up by the fire. He said he would go immediately to find out what had happened. I was to lay by the fire until Simon returned with the news. I couldnít wait for him to return. I went to the village. Approaching the village, I saw a Gentile from a distance. I soon recognized him to be Marko. When he saw me, he crossed himself and didnít look at me. I ran toward him and asked him what happened in the village. Instead of answering me he began to curse. Marko then told me that all the Jews had been shot. I felt ashamed. The devil took me fishing. Now I am alone, the lone survivor. Why was I spared and not killed with all those holy men? Marko then said they had killed everyone in Horodok and Stolin. What do I do now?
I had a crazy idea to go back to the village. Marko shouted at me to go back and sit in the stall. Soon more Gentiles began to arrive. Everyone ran around confused. Even for them this was a lot to handle. They had lived among the Jews for years. When they saw me alive, they ran to me and kissed me. They assured me that the children were not tortured. When they shot the men the women came out with heart-rending screams. They were also driven out. They gathered the men at the fire station as if they were going to have a meeting. They tied them up in threes, took them out of the village. Meanwhile, the non-Jewish boys were hitting them with sticks. Yankl, Moishe and Feiglís son, was very brave. It was like leading sheep to the slaughter. Yakov, auntie Goldeís son wrote a few words on a piece of paper and asked somebody to give it to me. Nobody wanted to take this note in their hands. They shot three bullets into him, and he was still standing. The fourth put him down. Shloimke, the blacksmithís son was lightly wounded in his ear. He fell among the dead. Suddenly he stood up and began to run. He was caught and shot. All these stories were told to me by the Gentiles who saw everything. They didnít sleep all night. They sat up smoking as each Gentile had had a Jewish friend.
The police quickly caught on that I was not among the dead. But night fell and they were busy with other things. They couldnít search for me I spent more time on the street than in doors. I lived like a wild animal with sharp ears and sharp eyes. I went deeper and deeper into the darkness. At dawn I left the Gentiles and I told them how I will tell everybody they were good to me. In the morning I crossed to the other side of the river. It was then that I realised there were fifty-three dead. I recited Kaddish (mournerís prayer) for all the names I could remember and I cried hot tears.
I wondered what was doing in Stolin. Were my loved ones still alive? If they were alive, I must let them know that I am alive. I couldnít hear or see anything I remained among the dead for the rest of the day.
I heard footsteps approaching. Perhaps theyíre out looking for me. I then heard more footsteps and whispers. Then I recognized Simonís voice calling out: "Mikhoel, Mikhoel!" I wondered how he had found me. He told me he had been searching all morning. He brought me milk, bread, matches and paper. He told me the women and children of the village were taken away. I wanted to go farther away and hide. There was no talk about returning to the village. I was thinking where to go. What to do now? I thought I should go deeper in Horoshe among the harvest but I should wait till darkness. At night there were dogs barking. My feet were crumbling under me, my heart was pounding. I had no idea how I would escape this situation. At one time when it was difficult here there was a good friend Avdey Siroshik who hid my brothers Maishl and Berl.
Whenever I would go fishing, I would bring Avdeus a package of tobacco and matches. He would often treat me to dried fish. Without speaking, I approached him. When he saw me he took me in his arms, and began to cry. "Come to me my son, donít be afraid", he said. "I wonít let them touch a single hair. An angel from heaven sent you to me. Come with me into town I donít want anyone to see you".
Late that evening Avdey took me to Stanoch, fed me and washed my shirt. "Eat my child", he said. I hadnít eaten for two days. I could barely open my mouth to eat. The old man pushed the plate to me and encouraged me to eat. "I hope you like fresh fish", he said. "I will add a little pepper, maybe that will give you an appetite."
The old man was very angry. He said that those who cause such a tragedy should be cursed. After I ate, and calmed down a little, I told the old man I wanted to go to Stolin. Maybe people are still alive. I was so lonely. Avdey warned me that he had heard, that all the Jews of Stolin were at home and feeling fine. All night I thought about what might be doing in Stolin.
Sitting by the fire, with smoke in my eyes, I thought about how brave the old man was. At dawn, he put me in a small boat and sent me to the small island at Horishe. The island was covered with white birch trees. After we left Ruble, he told me to hide and that as soon as he would have a chance he would return. Lying in the bushes, I heard the banging of the wagons of the Gentiles returning from the village with their families. I overheard them talking about the nasty Jews. The Gentiles of the area were quite friendly. They brought milk and bread and allowed people to stay to rest. From my hiding place on my island I was able to see the comings and goings. It was already quite late when the old man returned to me. I recognized him from his cough. He told me things were quiet in Stolin, but I should stay put. He apologized for not coming sooner. He left some milk and bread for me and told me he would come back soon to take me away.
The old manís son, Chvedar, a sly crook, began to watch his father, and become suspicious that his father was hiding me. After seeing his father come to the island, he came to the island looking for me. When I heard his footsteps, I hid even deeper. At one point I heard coughing and was sure it was the old man. As I slowly crawled out of my hiding spot it was a terrible feeling to see Chvedarís face with that criminal smile. He found me, and was very pleased with himself.
I was not happy, but there was nothing I could do. I fell to my knees and tears began to pour from my eyes. "Mikhoel", he said, "I will not harm you". He was very angry with his father, but not with me.
I told Chvedar that I was anxious to go to Stolin to find out what had happened there. He told me that at dawn he would go to Stolin, and would return to me the following day with a report. I nervously awaited him the whole next day. Finally the old man Avdey showed up in a boat. He gave me so much, and I loved him very much. I told the old man that I was going to leave and that he should not be frightened. What has happened has already happened.
The old man brought me everything I needed including a plate, a spoon, matches, and a flint for making fire from stone. Seeing that he was not asleep I could not fall asleep. I sat up and thought about all the martyrs. I was jealous of all those who were free, all those who could go where they want. I didnít sleep all night, I sat up and listened to the wind. I looked up at the starry, starry sky and asked: "for whom is the sky so beautiful?"
It was already three nights that I spent with the old man. It was already four days since the martyrs of Ruble lay in the ground. Are they still alive in Stolin? Do they know I am still alive? Avdey looked me straight in the eyes and rubbed my head. He didnít want me to think so much. In an effort to distract me, he told me stories from when he was a young handsome soldier.
At daybreak, Chvedar came to milk the cows. He told me they found Nosn Ginsburg who had been in hiding near Ruble. The Ruble police found him and shot him. He then told me that in the town of Bereznaya the bandits came and looted the Jewish homes. They even pulled off the windows and doors. In one house they found Yehuda Boruch and Moishe Budesky, who by some miracle remained and saw the women being taken away. Not knowing what would happen to them, they came out of hiding. When the local Gentiles saw Yehuda Boruch walking on the street they joyfully ran to hug and kiss him. But some began to shout: "Jew, Jew!" and they began to run from one end of the village to another.
Old and young came to see what was happening. Those awful people became busy with stealing Jewish goods. Meanwhile they took Yehuda Boruch and Moishe Budsky, two old Jews, and took them to what was once Yehuda Durchinís cellar. This was the only closed cellar in Ruble. Three people had escaped from the massacre in Horodok. Simcha the slaughterer, Noche the barber, and another young boy whoís name I cannot remember. They were all in a stall in Ruble. Simcha the slaughterer, chose the stall and when the Gentiles arrived, Simcha came out of hiding. Simcha asked the man for bread. The man said he would go to the village and bring back bread and other things. When the Gentile returned, he brought a gun instead of bread. He then brought Simcha to Yehuda Durchinís cellar. When the old man Lipsky saw what was happening to Simcha, he ripped his shirt, fell to the ground and cried.
There were now five Jews being held in the cellar. That same night, they were supposedly shot. The old man reluctantly told me this story.
In Stolin, they had still not heard the horrible news from Horodok. My brother Maishl had survived the Ruble Slaughter and was afraid to ask of my whereabouts. Finally the old man told me that he thought my brother was still alive. He swore he had not seen him among the dead. We assumed he was alive, but we didnít know where. Nobody knew where I was. Shloime Ginzburg managed to escape from Ruble. When he arrived in Stolin, he ran through the village and the police ran after him. Many were enemies of the Jews. He managed to escape because he was healthy, young and strong.
The whole time, I remained on the island. Avdey kept me up-to-date on my brother Maishl.
Militia from Stolin, dressed in Ukrainian uniforms, set out to Ruble to see if they can catch any Jews that may still be alive. They were planning to shoot the five Jews in the cellar. When they arrived at the cellar in Ruble, the police saw them. The Militia got frightened and let the Jews go. They also said that no one should touch the Jews. The five who had been sentenced to death did not know what to do. When the bandit Vanko had heard what took place he began to laugh. When Chvedar heard that the Jews were let free he came to the island and told his father that I should be let free. "Oh my son, donít be scared", said the old man. "Everything is now o.k."
There was nothing much left for the robbers to steal. Things had become calmer and quieter. I was curious to return to Ruble to see what they did. I wanted to show everyone I was still alive. I wanted to see my friends and family. I couldnít believe something so terrible could happen.
When I arrived in Ruble it was harvest time. I was assured all was quiet. I went slowly to the village hoping to find familiar faces. Everything looked normal. The peasants were carrying their buckets. Others were busy with their horses and pigs. My heart was beating fast. I stopped to look around. I approached the home of Afanovitch with my heart beating faster and faster. Where was I going? Some of the Gentile boys came running towards me. "Donít go there!" they shouted. Vanko is now in the village and heís sitting and drinking with the machinist. If he sees you, heíll kill everyone. They wouldnít let me go. They took me with force into the garden and they made me swear I would not leave. I wanted to see the machinist. One of the boys brought him to me. I saw he was nervous. He was surprised to see me alive. I asked him if he had the opportunity to please send a bit of flour.
Meanwhile, my Gentile friends prepared a package for me with bread and cheese. They also gave me a jacket. These were the same guys that took the boots off uncle Yehudaís feet. Uncle Yehuda was paralysed, he lay in bed and couldnít move. When he wanted to speak, only strange noises would come from his mouth. Rochl and Mirl cared for him. When the women were taken away, they couldnít take Yehuda with them. They dressed him, put boots on his feet and left him. When the Gentile boys came, they stole the boots off Yehudaís feet. These were the same boys that helped me. Go try and understand them.
With a full sack of food and a torn jacket I returned to Horishe. I didnít want anybody to find out that I was staying with Avdey. Seeing my sack full of food made the old man a little more cheerful. He was happy to see that others were caring for me as well.
Waiting for Chvedar to return from Stolin, my heart nearly fell out of my chest. When he finally returned around eleven oíclock at night he took a note out of his pocket and handed it to me. I immediately recognized my brother Maishlís handwriting. I was delighted to find out he was still alive. I knew, that I would be assumed dead until they would actually see me in Stolin. Alive in Horishe, I began to think about how to return to Stolin. There were police in the villages and I was afraid. I would have to pass through Vonkevitch. I knew the town was filled with bandits.
I decided to wait a few more days. By Saturday, I finally decided to head towards Stolin. The old man didnít want to let me go. He offered me as much fish and bread as I needed and told me I should stay until things calmed down. But my heart was tugging at me to go to Stolin. I swapped my pants and shirt with the old man. Dressed in peasant clothes, with a sack over my shoulders I began my journey through Dobrove and Belahush to Stolin. I knew the road so well, I had travelled it so many times. But everything looked strange to me. I didnít speak to people that I saw along the way. I didnít want to bring any attention to myself. Dressed in peasantís clothing, nobody recognized me as a Jew. The most difficult part of my journey was to see the sad women of Belahush going from door to door begging for a piece of bread. The priest and his wife helped care for these women. Chaike, Moishe Faivlís wife, recognized me and began to scream: "Mikhoel is alive! Mikhoel is alive!" People came running from all directions. For a moment I felt very embarrassed since these womenís husbands were dead and I was still alive. One woman began to complain and asked me why I didnít bring her husband with me. Woe is me. If auntie Goldeís Chaya had not been there I donít know what I would have done. Curious peasants began to gather around. Chaya began to shout: "let him go the police will be here soon!" I passed Belahush in peace.
As I continued towards Stolin I saw many women from Stolin carrying food for the less fortunate. I saw my sister Gonia and her children carrying baskets of food to Belahush. My sister could not believe it was me. She told me to go home quickly to see mother. I walked through the back streets and gardens until I reached our yard. Father was sitting on the porch, and mother was working in the yard. When she looked up and saw me, she couldnít budge. She spread her arms wanting to run toward me but she couldnít move. I fell into her arms, I couldnít say a word, I only sobbed.
Father let out a cry through his thick lips "God in heaven, we never believed we would see you alive again". Suddenly Maishl fell upon me. He tried to hold back his tears but couldnít. "Woe is me", he cried. "You escaped the murderers." When Frumke saw me, she became hysterical. By the time I calmed her down, all the neighbours began to arrive. It was hard to believe, that for seven days I had been close to death, and now, here I was with my mother, father, Maishl, Frumke, Gonia and the children. It felt like a dream.
Father gathered a minyan (a quorum of ten men) and began to recite Kaddish (mournersí prayer) for Yankl. We loved Yankl very much, he and father had been such good friends.
The Stolin Jewish community had a big task. They had to rescue and help the widows from other towns. They paid off the police and brought as many women into Stolin as possible, filling up the synagogues with destitute women who had nowhere to go. Those who had friends, stayed with them. Stolin was now providing for many hungry and poor. The doors of Stolin were never closed. Women and children went from door to door asking for bread. Auntie Golde and Chaya had moved into my room together with Rochl and her two daughters. The house was packed. Even though mother had many problems of her own, her door was open to every hungry person. Uncle Sholemís daughter Chana together with her husband and child also moved in with us. The Germans had captured uncle Sholem, taken him behind the village and told him to dig his own grave. After he finished digging they told him to lie down in it. When they saw it wasnít quite deep enough they made him dig deeper. They hit him and tore his beard. As they were about to shoot him, a group of soldiers passed by and didnít let the other soldiers shoot. With great fear, uncle Sholem told us this story of his survival.
The leader of the Stolin Jewish community was an engineer from Lodz whoís name was Berger. Berger spoke German very well and was a man of strong character. He was able to be strong in the most difficult times. He was the first to deal with the murderers. The Rabbiís son-in-law was scared and sat at home. Boruch Goldman, Aaron Shimen Turkenich, Shloime Pollak the wagon driver. He was the one who handled the bandits of Stolin.
It was now two weeks before Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year), but it did not feel like a festive time. Every one was worried about what lay ahead. There was not an empty spot in Stolin. There were many refugees coming to Stolin from Poland. Jews who escaped death in other villages were arriving in Stolin. When there were as few Jewish families left alive in Dubnow the peasants came in at night, chopped off hands and feet of some, and chased the rest out of town.
Stolin was right on the Ukrainian border. The Germans had the Ukrainians willingly on their side. They allowed the Ukrainians to do whatever they wanted to the Jews. A few Ukrainian nationalists arrived in Stolin and took over. Berger tried to connect himself to them. Bribing them with money and whisky he tried to prevent them from bothering the Jews. This was a crazy time. From time to time, the Ukrainians would bother the Jewish girls. We tried, as much as possible, to stay off the streets. The surrounding peasants came to Stolin daily. They could not understand what was happening or rather not happening in Stolin. Compared to what was going on in other villages, Stolin was like paradise.
Some truly believed that the Jews of Stolin had been saved thus far due to the presence of the holy Rabbi. The holy Rabbi didnít even want to hear about the tragedies befalling Bialystok, Rovno and Pinsk. Stolin is different he would say, this wonít happen here.
Everybody was searching for bread. People sold everything they had worked all their lives for, for a piece of bread or potatoes. Gentiles from Ruble, friends of our family, would often come by to see how we were doing and to bring us some bread. My parents believed they were doing this out of true friendship. But I noticed, how their horses were ready, and how they eyed everything we had in our house. I knew their intentions. Every day these guests would come, thinking that the tragedy would soon befall Stolin and they would be able to steal all the Jewish possessions. They would come bringing potatoes and flour but then in return ask my mother for various items. I had nothing left. The few things I had in Ruble were stolen on the day we fought with the bandits. My father had very little. My mother still had a few tablecloths and kerchiefs that she sold, rather gave away for next to nothing.
Every time my mother would find a blouse, a napkin or a kerchief she would give it to Gonia who had to divide it up among the children. She began to give away all the things sent from Ruble. How could I not allow her to sell things at such a time? We had to be silent because we heard the peasants would soon be forbidden to have contact with the Jews. The house was quickly becoming empty. Gonia would often say that if we survive, we will get everything back.
Maishl was not often at home. When he returned in the evening, he would shout: "what are you doing and why are you giving everything away?"
Rosh Hashanah was approaching and we were becoming more and more frightened. Usually at this time of year, we worried about having a good cantor, new clothes, or about cooking and baking. This Rosh Hashanah, we were overcome with fear. In the evening we went to synagogue one at a time. We were afraid to light large fires so we just lit a few candles at the Bimah. Yakov, recited the prayers in a quiet voice. Like thieves we snuck to and from synagogue. Moishl, Frumke, and Gonia came to hear Kaddish. Where was the holiday meal? Chaya and Golde let out bitter cries. Rochl and her children cried after their father. And in this bitter time, even the men began to weep. Instead of shouting at the women to stop crying we cried with them.
Maishl had a plan; to hide whatever belongings we still had, between planks of wood in the stall. We hid a few pillows and a few blankets, in case we would have to spend some nights there. I buried a few pieces of silver among our things. We didnít have much to hide. Most of what we had we used to buy bread.
In the morning we went to synagogue. Behind closed windows we prayed like corpses wrapped in prayer shawls, weeping quietly. Everything was as if dead. Everybody cried through the Rosh Hashanah prayers. Our Maishl cried hard for the suffering and troubles that had befallen us. He didnít know this was to be his last day alive.
While we were in the synagogue we noticed a lot of movement in the street. A few cars full of Germans drove by. They were wearing brown uniforms and red armbands. Everyone was petrified. We hadnít yet finished praying, when they began running around in anger. They were carrying rifles. We looked out of the windows and it seemed they were running around like mad men preparing something.
I was tired and went to lie down. Maishl came in. when he saw me asleep he shouted: "How could you sleep at a time like this?! Come into our place and weíll drink some tea." I didnít have a lot of energy. I suggested to Moishl we go to our hiding place. Maishl said it was not yet necessary; it appeared that things were becoming calmer. I went to him. Frumke and Zelda Finkelshtein were sitting and talking. Maishl began to joke with them and tell stories of his bravery. He feared nothing. Suddenly we heard footsteps on the bridge. The militia had arrived and began banging on the door. Frumke yelled "save the children!" But it was too late. Another militia was standing at the back door. Both entered the house with rifles. One of them had a broken gun and demanded from Moishl that he give him a hammer and nails. Maishl gave them a hammer and nails. They shouted: "leave!" Not knowing to whom they were speaking I stood up. "Not you, sit down!" They dragged Maishl out. Frumke began to cry. She began to ask them to leave Maishl. She offered money but they did not allow her to speak. As they forced Maishl out of the house he turned around and said: "Donít cry, be strong. Iíll be back soon." This was his final journey. He didnít come back to us. They took fifty Jews from Stolin. They tortured them, they jabbed them with swords and kicked them. Even a brave man like Maishl couldnít take it. His last words were: "Woe is me", as they tortured him in the corridors of the jail.
Blood ran from Maishlís open wounds. The murderers poured iodine into his wounds. The greatest suffering was to his holy soul. Around twelve oíclock in the Stolin jail two of the fifty died. One was Maishl. The rest were held longer and tortured. Six months later, I found my brotherís body and buried him in his prayer shawl in a grave near auntie Goldeís. With tears we recited the Kaddish at his grave. Zelig Fishman was with me at the burial. He was very helpful to me. My brotherís face was difficult to recognize. Frumke, Gonia and Chaya were at the funeral. We did it without the Germans knowing as it was forbidden.
After my brotherís death, the most difficult days began. I was the only one left from the family surrounded by widows and orphans. I would look at the children; especially Avivale and my heart would be ripped to pieces. Aunt Golde was fine but suddenly she went out like a light. It was Chanukah time when her soul was raised. Many widows from Ruble were in our home. We made a big funeral. We were not afraid even though it was forbidden. A heavy yoke lay upon me to take care of all the widows and orphans. I had to see that they would not go hungry.
There was always a quorum in our home. My father, may he rest in peace would say Kaddish for the dead of Ruble, for my brother Maishl and for my auntie Golde. Father would say little and bite his lip in silence. He would only get angry when the women would cry, yet he would himself often weep. I had to play the role of a hero, but hiding in a corner where no one could see I would weep as well.
We were not allowed to go outside after seven oíclock in the evening. We would sit with closed shutters. Gonia and the children would often come to us through the garden and we would tell her what was going on. This is how we spent the whole winter.
On the eve of Passover 1942, Gonia was taken from her home. Zelig Fishman was very helpful to us. Rumour had it that they were going to build a ghetto in Stolin. By the eve of Shavuot the ghetto was completed. Itís hard to describe what happened. We received a command that everybody could take only what they could carry in their hands. We had to live. Father, may he rest in peace walked into the ghetto, bent over with tears dripping from his eyes into his beard. The ghetto was surrounded with fifteen wires on sticks that were three metres high.
We were given a small room. We shared it with uncle Yakovís Chaya-Golde, her small five-year-old son and my parents. Gonia was not far from us. Frumke and the children were also not far. Once in the ghetto, the real difficulties of life began. People were dying daily. They were swollen from hunger. I would look at my parentsí feet and shutter. People thought of nothing except where to get something to eat. I found a way to smuggle some food in.
Soon the news came that everyone will be shot. How could that be? Small children, the elderly? This canít be right! It canít be true. The dark day arrived. They eve of Rosh Hashanah 1942, 7,000 Jewish souls were killed. The graves were ready. They stripped everyone naked and lined them up in rows. Then with machine guns, they shot them all.
I will never forget the last night in the ghetto. I was with my parents until three oíclock in the morning. We said good-bye, we kissed and cried. I even kissed your pictures and said good-bye to you. Father recited Kaddish. Mother washed, and put on the nicest dress she had, preparing herself for death. They sent me out of the house. Leave us now they insisted. You will survive, you will one day take revenge and you will be the one to tell everyone what happened to us.
At that moment I could not believe the words spoken by my parents. I should leave? How could I go when we were surrounded on all sides? I decided to go in order to make things easier for my parents. They wanted so much for me to remain alive. That is how I departed from my loved ones forever.
On thousands of occasions I cursed the moment that I left. More than once, I wished I were lying with them, hugging just before death. After the slaughter, I lay in the cellar for eighteen days with Villen Meloshnik. While in the ghetto I thought of plans of escape. My heart told me that as soon as I would be able to leave the ghetto I would know what to do. Villen was with me, his wife was still alive. Sholem Durchin, was also in hiding with his wife and child. Their family was still intact. I was already an orphan. I met them at night and tried to convince them to leave with me. They were hoping for miracles. They remained. I continued to try to think how to get out.
On the eighteenth night, I decided to crawl out of my hiding place and go out in the darkness like a wild animal. I felt I was walking on dead bodies. My hair stood on end just from the thought. Where should I go? Everything was locked, closed tight. At that moment I met a living person. I immediately approached him thinking another unlucky soul was walking around searching for a way out. I was shocked when in front of me stood a large Gentile, who had been the biggest thief in Stolin! I became cold with fear. The thief showed me the way out of the ghetto. Later I heard that Vilen, Baile, Nisl and Shloime had been shot.
This is when my Ďgolden daysí began. I felt like I was the only man in the world, wandering and hiding. Lonely as a dog! I finally arrived in Horishe to my good friend, Avdey. He helped me, and sent me with great care and protection to the partisans. This was war. Taking revenge left and right. My experiences that came later are not important to write about. Being with the partisans was not easy.
I think this is all I remember, this is what happened. From the day the Russians came until the last day when I left home leaving my loved ones and dearest behind allowing them, to fall into the hands of the Nazis may their memories be erased.
The Horrible Ghetto Slaughter in Rublye,
David-Horodok and Stolin
First Letter to Detroit Michigan from Michael Nosanchuk
Michael Nosanchuk of Rubleh describes the horrible events in a letter to his brother Boris living in Windsor. His cousin Yakov Nosanchuk gave us two letters to publish. The first letter gives a general overview of the conditions that the Red Army soldier endured, and the second describes the details of the horrible slaughter. He writes in the first letter:
Today is the happiest day of my life. That is how I feel, reading a letter written in my brotherís hand. How many days and nights did I think of only one thing: that you should only know of the dark fate that had overtaken us. Escaping from the dark ghetto, from the murderous hands of the Germans, wandering around in the mud, swamps, woods and marshes alone and forlorn, worse off than a dog, I had only one thought-how can I let my brother and sister know? Will someone in my family even know of my death, of what I endured?
More than once I wanted to end my life, but remembering you, I encouraged myself. I kept up my hope and, with all my strength, I endured everything. My only aspiration was to get hold of a gun and take revenge. It was not easy for me to decide to join a partisan detachment. From the detachment I went on to join the Red Army. I was in Lithuania, Latvia, later on the front lines outside of Warsaw, and I ended in the darkness of Berlin. I took revenge for our innocent, spilled blood. But the great wound will not heal.
Second Letter to Detroit from Michael Nosantchuk
In the second letter, written five days later (January 15, 1946), the writer gives the following details of the bloody slaughter.
In 1941 around the 16th of Av (I remember it was a Sunday), the horrible slaughter occurred in David-Horodok. With the pretext that they were being sent to work, all the men were gathered outside of Horodok and shot to death. I was in Rubleh at that time unaware of anything. I had a passion for fishing, so I went out to the river. Uncle Yosef, our Aunt Golde's husband, sat at home around the table with his fellow Hasidim. I called for him to come with me, but he only joked that he would come later with a wagon to get the fish. I went alone.
Around five oíclock in the afternoon, I heard guns shooting, one after another. I settled deeper into the bushes and waited until someone came from the village. The first to announce the bitter news was the shameless Marko. Just two hours earlier everything had been peaceful. Everyone sat at his work, whether at the forge or at sewing. Suddenly all the men were dead, including cousin Yakov. A short time ago he was telling jokes, and now he lay dead. Why? Fifty-three martyrs were murdered, with Hannahleís (Zingerman) father and Gitleís husband among them.
Before he died Yakov said a few words. The villagers had taken them out bound together in groups of three into barns, and there they shot them. Soon came the realization that all were gone in Horodok as well.
Flight to Stolin
I managed to get away unnoticed to my friend Avdej Siroshik in the village of Horisha. The murderers soon realized that I was not among the bodies, and began searching for me. However Avdej knew how to hide me. In Stolin the black SS were not yet active. They had seized only David-Horodok. In Rubleh the perpetrators were local gentiles. I received a message from our brother Maishe Haim, may he rest in peace, that I should come to Stolin. I went there.
The unfortunate women of Horodok and Rubleh had been driven out of the villages of Horisha, and were robbed of their belongings before their eyes. The gentile Nikolai Pusiks pulled cousin Yakovís boots off the feet of his sister Haiyeh. (Later I saw him while I was with the partisans, and he was killed.) The unfortunates then wandered through the Brezno forest. Nowhere would anyone let them in. The Jews created a communal organization in Stolin, and with much money and sacrifice they worked to allow the unfortunates to enter Stolin.
On the second day of Rosh Hoshana, I sat with our brother Maisheh Haim. Suddenly two thugs burst into the house and took Maishele away forever. Three days later we learned that he had been tortured to death. He had been stuck with prods and pieces of flesh were torn from him. On the second day of Rosh Hoshana, 1941, at 12 midnight, he gave up his holy soul in the Stolin jail. I found his body six months later, and buried him wrapped in his tallis, near Aunt Goldeís grave.
His son, Liave, covered with tears, said the graveside Kaddish. Zelig Fishman was with me. He helped me. The face of our holy brother was already decomposed, but I recognized him anyway. Maisheh Haim's widow, Frumke, our sister Gonyeh and her daughters Haiyeh and Rachel also came running to help. We made the funeral without the knowledge of the Germans.
After Maishelehís death I began a different life. I became a part of a family of orphans and widows. I would look at the children, especially his little daughter Avivaleh, and my heart would nearly break. Aunt Golde held out well, but then the light began to go out. At Hanukkah, she breathed her last in our house. All the Rubleh widows wept for her. We made a quiet funeral because the Germans forbade funerals.
But we didnít have much time to think of the dead. The great burden of all the orphans and widows fell on me.
I turned in every direction trying to keep them from starving. We had a minyon in our house. Father, may he rest in peace, would say Kaddish with Liave. The first Kaddish was for the Rubleh martyrs, next for our brother, then for Aunt Golde. Father would say little, just bite his lips and keep silent. Often he would scold the women when they began crying, and then he would begin to shed tears. I was forced to play the role of a hero, but at the same time shed my own tears.
One could not appear on the streets after seven oíclock in the evening. We would sit behind closed shutters. Often Gonyeh and her children would come through the garden and we would sit together. Not infrequently we would talk about you, whether you knew what was happening here and what you would think when you found out. Thus we sat in the house the entire winter.
On the eve of Pesach, 1942, they drove Gonyeh out of her house, and then us too. At that time Zelig Fishman, may he rest in peace, gave us considerable aid. Then there began rumors that the Germans would make a ghetto in Stolin. How many trials could we endure? How many tribulations? They were flaying our skin. By the eve of Shavuos the Germans had completed encircling the ghetto with a fence of 15 wires, one post every two or three meters. We received the order to move into the ghetto. It is impossible to describe the picture.
Everybody carried what they could -as one must live. Father, may he rest in peace, took his cane and went into the ghetto. We were assigned a small room -myself, Goldeís son Shia, cousin Yakovís five-year-old son Michalkeh and our parents. Not far from us was Gonyeh with her children and our sister-in-law Frumke and her children Liaveh and Avivaleh.
In the ghetto it was forbidden to take anything in or out. The death rate reached twelve a day. People became swollen. I would look at motherís feet and shudder. We talked of nothing but eating. We found ways of smuggling food into the ghetto. Then came the terrible knowledge that they were shooting all the Jews. We couldnít believe it. What does it mean? How could they? Small children? Old people? It cannot be!
The Destruction of the Stolin Jews
Until the black day came on the eve of Rosh Hoshana 1942, there had been 7000 souls in Stolin, and all were killed. The graves were prepared. They first stripped naked and then were forced to lie down in the graves and then were shot in rows.
I will never forget the last night in the ghetto. I stayed with mother until three oíclock in the morning. We kissed and kissed, cried and cried with your photographs pressed to our hearts, we said farewell to you. Father recited the confessional prayer. Mother bathed and put on clean clothes, preparing for her death. She then drove me out of the house, saying "Go away from us! You will survive! Hide yourself! Donít stay with us! Perhaps you will be able to avenge us and tell of our fate."
At that moment I didnít believe motherís words; how could I survive when we were surrounded on all sides? I went away with the idea that our parentsí last minutes would be easier if they thought I had survived.
So I left our dearest and most treasured forever. A thousand times I cursed the moment when I left. I often wished that I had lain down with them and embraced them, as all the martyrs did before they died.
I stayed in a cellar with Valyen Malatchnik for 18 days after the slaughter of the ghetto. I thought of everything, looking for ways to get out. My heart told me that if only I could get out of the ghetto, I would know how to get along. I tried to get Valyen to go along with me. However at that time his wife was also alive and in hiding.
Others who were still alive included Bela and Nissl Malatchnick, their daughter Bashele, and Shalom Durtzin with his wife and child. Their families were still intact and I was already an orphan. I would meet them at night and try to convince them to find a way to escape with me. They decided to wait for a miracle and remained there.
I began to search for a way out by myself. On the 18th night after the slaughter I groped around in the dark ghetto all the doors, windows, all broken; all the houses were vacant. When I thought I had stumbled over the dead body of a martyr, my hair shuddered. I had only one thought - life! life! How can I get out of here?
At that moment, I encountered another living person. I quickly went over to him. I thought that he was another unfortunate like myself, trying to find a way out. How shocked I was to see a tall gentile standing before me - the biggest thief in Stolin (he now sits in jail) and he led me out of the ghetto after I bribed him with my only possession - Father's pocket watch which he gave me moments before I left him forever.
Valyen, Bela, Nissl, Shalom - they were found and shot to death several days after my escape.
Then I began to live my darkest days - a lone survivor in the world, wandering about. I owe gratitude toAvdej Siroshik, Kvador (Feydor) and Levon and Malak Mamonovitch - they helped me out until I could fend for myself, that is to say, join a partisan detachment and then the Red Army.
I will not describe my further experiences; they are not important. I believe that what I have written will give you a more-or-less clear picture of what happened to us. We have with us here from Rubleh, Avraham Shulman, the Leviís two sons. They are longing for their Aunt Edel Shulman in New York, but they do not have her address. If you can, dear brother, find out her address from the Rubleh people, and let her know about the two boys. Let her write to them at my address