GHETTOS AND PARTISANS[i]
Testimony by Yosef Elman
Parents: Binyomin, Tzirl Kaplan, age 23, instruction 9 years.
When war out broke I was in Pruzhany. Already from the first days, Germans caught everyone to work. They transported men in trucks and took them further of the aerodrome, detained them during days, and were enraged with them during work. In an opportunity they forced two Jews to load a motor of 60 "puds" on a car, and the men could not make it. Nazis hit them ferociously.
During the second week, other 18 Jews were added: AARON KAGANITZKY, MONTIARS, ELIOHU LIUBOSHITZ, Mrs. FOTOLSKY, Mrs. AVERBUCH, GOLUBOVITSH, Mrs. FRYDMAN with her son HERSHEL and her daughter (her son was one of the great heroes of the city). They took them to the forest Liache, two km of Pruzhany and they shot them. In the detention participated VLADISLAV SUSKY and his son, TAMEK MIKLASHEVITZ and Police Commandant YAKUBINSKY. After this event, didn't happen particular issues.
At the end of 1941, was created in Pruzhany a Ghetto. Germans said that they created in Pruzhany a "Jewish State". Assured that nothing bad would happen to Jews. Were transferred to Pruzhany inhabitants of the whole town of Hainovke, many of Zabludeve, 500 of Byalistok, another equal quantity of Bielovietz. After this, Pruzhany had 12.000 Jews. A Judenrat was created, integrated by most intellectual people of the city. Headed it YTZL YANOVITSH, the biggest importer of the main business in Pruzhany. His representative was VELVEL SHRAIBMAN, a lawyer.
For relationships with Germans was designated ZAVEL SEGAL, and also SHIEN of Lodz. The Judenrat defended interests of Jews. They knew about partisan movement, and they didn't interfere in their activity. Also, SHRAIBMAN helped the movement. The GESTAPO Chief VILHELEM assured: "won't happen anything to Jews of the Reich , all bad that was happening comes from wild people: Ukrainian, Byelorussian, Lithuanian and Poles, but in IIIrd. Reich it won't happen. Could be humiliation acts in work camps, but will not happen extermination as done by Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Byelorussian."
At the end of 1942 began extermination actions in the territory of IIIrd. Reich. We received alarming news from cities of the Reich as Bielsk, Lomze. Began to be organized a group of Jews as "crash force", the " partisans". To this group belonged YOSEL UNTERSHUL, ABROM FRYDMAN, TUVIA BRYDBORD with her siblings AVROM and FAIGUEL, BEREL SEGAL with his brother LIOLEK, YIOZIK FRYDMAN, me and my oldest brother SMEREL, LEIZER ISRAELIT, his wife and his brother BEREL IZRAEL, the liturgical singer YOSEF of Byalistok, SHLOIME and MOISHE RAVITZKY, YACOV ROSENBOIM, RUTH RATZKEVITSH, HERSHEL DINERMAN, HERSHEL YANOVSKY, AVROM RISUK and others. We manufactured weapons: 20 shotguns, 26 carbines, 2 machine guns, and many boxes with grenades of different explosive materials.
We got weapons in a German deposit where worked YOSEF UNTERSHUL (he introduced in the Ghetto 7 rifles, and shotguns). Me and my brother introduced in a double bottom sled 7 rifles, being one automatic. My brother worked as employee of Major SOSHMAN. In an opportunity we hook the sled in that of the Major, we load some firewood, and the Major personally added some more quantity of logs, covering mentioned smuggling. This happened in January 1943. Having some weapons in our hands, we got ready to begin action: the first group was integrated by 12 people: YOSEL UNTERSHUL and his wife GALIA, BRYDBORD, AVROM FRYDMAN, BEREL SEGAL and his brother LIOLEK, HERSHEL DINERMAN, HERSHEL CHANNA, MUZI FRIDMAN and others of Byalistok whose names I don't remember.
We took 10 carbines, a machine gun, a radio Phillips, 6 lamps, 3 pistols and grenades for each one. We left at beginning of January, when weather was tremendous, stormy, snowed and was intense cold. We took advantage of the short lapse of time of guard's change, while we waited in a comfortable hiding place under pulled up wires, and little by little we began to move. Each one had thick coats and other elements to prevent from cold. We also load shovels, picks, axes.
The whole group left with their weapons. Everything passed in peace. The wind erased signs of footfalls. Me, my brother SHMERL, SHLOIME and MOISHE RAVITZKY, LEIZER IZRAELIT and his wife, AVREMEL RIVNIK and others stayed in the Ghetto to organize more people and to prepare weapons.
The forest was about 12 kms. of Pruzhany and the group addressed toward Zamtsh forests, wandered some days, slept in plain forest, and didn't find partisans. Decided to be self organized, without anybody's help. They dug a bunker in the forest with caution and other indispensable requirements. In the refuge was a well of water, a camera to keep groceries, a deep closet. Was 5 meters wide and 8 meters long, with two entrances.
After 10 days we found two partisans, former activists of Soviet power, ALYOSHA and MIKITA. They gathered the group and we worked together during a long time. At the beginning they were in charge of groceries supply that peasants gave of goodwill. Some members of the group frequently arrived to the city, to know if weapons were gotten or to bring necessary elements. We always met them in a camouflaged place of the Ghetto
January 24 the Ghetto began to be specially watched over. Just were in the Ghetto two partisans: BEREL SEGAL and HERSHEL YANOVSKY. Understanding the danger, they gathered all partisans and with weapons in their hands, were willing to defend themselves. The night of February 28 to March 1, we proved to break the guard, and two of our partisans ran to warn the group of the forest about the situation in the Ghetto. They decided to be prepared to receive those that were able to escape, or to set on fire the Ghetto, and produce an active rebellion. We arrived until the wire fences to destroy them. YTZHOK SEGAL and DOMBROWSKY were able to cut the wires. The surveillance detected our position. They began an intense shooting with gun machines. The bullets reached YTZHOK SEGAL, and DOMBROWSKY was hurt in the back. I was able to move away SEGAL some hundred meters, but he died in my hands.
As consequence of this defeat, we decided to remain that night in the place and to hide in Schron. It was February 1 1943. That day we listened that were expelled of Pruzhany 4000 Jews. Germans surrounded each street and each house, and forced Jews to ascend to trucks, saying that they drove them to a work field. But we found out later that they took them to Auschwitz. At evening, calm returned.
Then, during three days continued expulsion until nobody was left in the Ghetto. After first day of action, the night of Friday 1 to February 2, we decided that in case of any circumstance, we will leave the Ghetto. Our group was integrated by 18 people: Me, my brother SHMEREL, AVREMEL RYBNIK, LEIZER IZRELIT his wife and brother, YAKOV LEVKOVITSH and many others.
We cut the wire fence with pincers and we passed, and together with us passed other 40 people, unarmed, and taking advantage of the opportunity they followed us. Some minutes later, Germans discovered the place, and they opened a "rain" of bullets, and resulted that some died and others were hurt. As we listened later, in the refuges were hidden thousands people . Some were able to leave the hiding places, but they had few chances to survive.
We began to walk in address to the forest Truchovitsh Zamoshe, but in the road we were disoriented. Then we entered a village called Yakovitsh, to that of a peasant, and we forced him with weapons in the hand, so he indicates us forest address.. We walked the whole night, time was very bad since it snowed. To the dawn we arrived to a village called Zamosh near the forest. Germans had set on fire the village, we entered the forest, we rested, and as we were hungry and thirsty we drank snow.
We wandered in the forests disoriented this way during two weeks, looking for our group. We slept on grass and under the sky. We should leave to look for food. Then we left 6 people: me, my brother SHMEREL, YTZCHOK FRYDBERG, DOVID LEIB KROMAN and other two that I don't remember. On the road Truchovitsh - Lyskowo, we stopped a peasant that transported pigs and salt. We take out this elements from him, and we continued toward a near town called Zaveisky Bor, where we got bread and elements to build the refuge: axes, shovels and a pot to cook.
We returned in peace to the forest, and we began to order ourselves. We built a refuge, but after some days, the guard of the forest (GAYOVY) discovered our refuge, and we had to abandon the place. Then we built other three refuges, but we could not stay there because the forest was small. The peasants came to look for firewood and they discovered us. Then we decided to pass to another forest called Bruchanovitsh near Zamosh. In this forest we divided ourselves in three groups, we distributed the weapons, and each group constructed it's refuge in different places, but one next to the other. Groceries supply was done in common.
Our refuges were big, comfortable, with all indispensable necessities covered. We decided to provision ourselves with a higher quantity of groceries. Each 10 people of the three groups should do the task of looking for provisions: me, my brother SHMEREL, HIRSHL SEGAL, ISROEL BOBMAN, TZADOK TSHERSHEVSKY, SHLOIME RUBIN, OVADIA BERESTIZKY, SHLOIME and MOISHE RAVITZKY, AVREMEL BRYDBORD and others. We left to the village Yakovitshi near Pruzhany, to an "assault", to provide us peasants' groceries. We took with us groceries for one month, and we load them on two carts. We liberated the horses, and we load the groceries in the refuges, for not leaving signs.
After some hours, when some of the group began to rest, and others were busy in storing groceries, we listen that Germans began to attack our refuges. They were driven by the peasants and were headed by KORFEY of Yakubishi. Germans threw grenades and 7 of our partisans perished: siblings SHLOIME and MOISHE RAVITZKY, AVREMEL BRYDBORD, ZELIG KLEINERMAN, MOISHE FRYDBERG, ABRAMOVITSH of Kosovo and OVADIA BERESTIZKY.
They also caught a wounded girl called FELA BORODOVSKA. The other partisans took the weapons and they moved away from the refuges. At night, after the aggression, we decided to return to the refuges, take with us products, went to another forest, and divided us in different addresses, but always maintaining contact. A group left to the forests of Yanin, in the District of Lyskovo. The second group went to the swamps of Pogorela, and the third group went to the forests of Yanin but on the other bank of the river.
In the route to Yanin we found Soviet partisans. They traveled five in a sled. All were armed with automatic weapons of the group "Maior"; they were well dressed. They were interested in us and they promised us help, but at the beginning we should get food for ourselves. In Yanin we frequently met these partisans, they continued promising to integrate us to their group, and they told us that meanwhile we should defend with our weapons. In Yanin we felt more sure.
The group of Pogorel also met with partisans of Shkalovsky Ostriad, and they also did not were related better. They also promised they would gather us. We joined with them to "assault", to pick up groceries, but not to have actions against the Nazis in common, because we had light weapons. In Pogorel, the group met with our first partisans. Because we were independent, we made some "assault" actions.
We left to Pruzhany, to that of German Chief von KNAUT, in the mill of ZAIDEL KRUTZEL. We entered with a cart, and we took a bag of sugar, flour, a radio transmitter/receiver, his gun, and his Hitler regime uniform. We brought all this in peace to the forest. Me, ABRAHAM FRYDMAN, CHANOVSKY, BEREL SEGEL, YOSEL UNTERSHUL, and FRYDMAN attacked guards in Pruzhany on Chavtka St., unarmed four Germans, we took from them four shotguns, the cartridge holder with bullets, and grenades. The Germans didn't want to shoot me in order not to produce alarm in the city. When we liberated the Germans, they escaped to the forests and during three days they did not present themselves to their Chiefs.
Also, at night, we cut posts of telephone and of telegraph cables. In Yanin Germans were preparing to catch us. Our connection men transmitted us that for our security we should abandon the forest of Yanin.
The Commandant of the group sent us and three of his partisans to the Pushtsha Ruzanska, which happened April 16. There we found the refuges that Germans had already discovered. The Commandant was accused of traitor as German agent, and was shot by an order arrived from Moscow. Some time before, the same Commandant had incorporated us to his group called Kirov, and among them were the best partisans: SEGAL and his brother LYOLEK, HERSHEL CHANOVSKY, ELIOHU WINER, and other three of Byalistok whose names I don't remember.
For this Comandant's order, were separated from our group seven men with the pretext of passing them to another group. They took them, but they never returned. After some days, partisans MOSTYA BUDKIEVITSH, MIKITA and others wore clothes of our partisans. We understood that our friends were no longer.
Our group was integrated by 18 people of Yanin forest, together with another group of 12 people of Lyskowo. Russian partisans left them in its refuges in Pushtsha Ruzanska. We tried to get groceries together with the group of Lyskowo . We were the first partisans of the forest, two years after Germans expelled "Commandant's" group. Besides providing groceries, together with the group of Moscow headed by Commandant NOVIKOV and with our friends SHAUL ZYLBERBERG (the deaf), SHLOIME RUBIN (dead fighting against Germans), and many others, we served as guides and participated in diverse tasks: cut telegraphic and phone lines, cover all routes with mines and barricades, etc.
May 1 1943 arrived an order from Moscow, to gather all small groups, and distribute partisans among combat groups. Me and I my brother SHMEREL, AVROM RYBNIK and other youths entered the combat group called Kirov that belonged to the brigade A. N. PONOMARENKO. together with other 16 Jewish youths. I caused good impression to the battalion commandant called KOLKA MARIAK.
From third day we left with the whole group to the route Pruzhany-Rozhinoy near the sawmill Galsvitshny, and we cut telegraph and telephone cables along 3 km. Then we made an operative in same place, knowing that Germans should arrive as soon as possible with armed trucks to repair communications. After half an hour, approached two trucks loaded with about 60 Germans, headed by the famous SS LEHMAN. We opened fire and we killed 30 Germans at once, and took three prisoners. LEHMAN was among them. From our side, were killed the gunner A. GARKA and the Commandant POTIOMKIN. The gunner ZVAROV was hurt. We took trophies: two machine guns, three automatic weapons, ten rifles, five grenades, bullets, other ammunition and a lot of clothes.
Some days after the fight, I was designated Number 2 of gunners specialists. Almost daily, we attacked Germans during night, we cut telegraphic and phone cables, and we placed mines. We slept rarely during night. I was distinguished in different operations, and designated Number one of P. T. O. (Protivo Tankovie Orushie) that means "anti tanks weapon". This weapon was the only one in the whole posse and weighed 24 kg. To service it, were four people.
Ending July 1943 we left for the first time to go to the route Pruzhany-Rozhinoi, 25 km from Pruzhany. In the operative participated the third group, headed by commandant KOLKA MARIAK. We were some 30 very armed people. We were alert the whole night. To the dawn, arrived a German truck of three tons, loaded with 7 officials all armed with automatic weapons and guns. Me with the P. T. O. pointed to the motor, shot, and it burnt. The machine stopped in front of us, we opened an intense fire, and Germans with their automatic weapons could not open up fire, neither a single time! They were destroyed in pieces.
We could capture 7 automatic weapons, 8 guns, great quantity of grenades and other military elements. After five minutes, when we still could not take all trophies, arrived 150 Germans and cut us the entrance to the forest. Our commandant ordered to reply fire, and to retire in contrary sense, toward Glinapol Yanin. We retired in order. Germans requested help to all near posses, and began to pursue us in the forest step by step . We were very tired.
We entered another small forest to rest. We hardly sat down and they opened up on us an intense fire, and a rain of bullets. The commandant ordered to stay with body to earth and occupy a defense position. We answered with fire, and killed five Germans. It was already midday and calm returned.
Then Commandant KOLKA MARIAK with our two best warriors decided to leave, in search of meal. We tried to persuade them so they don't make this mission, but they didn't accept our suggestion. They died in this action. We returned to the forest and we named Commandant to VANKA ZOLOTAROV, who also related very well with me.
At the beginning of September 1943, we found out through our connection men, that in our District where peasants were our friends, would arrive Germans and would attack the village Lovitsh Kosovsky, they would take young people to Germany, and would set on fire the village. The whole brigade under the name of PONAMARENKO, was mobilized. During the night, very armed, we distributed ourselves in the whole region of Bielovietz-Kosovo and each group occupied its fight area.
Me and my weapon were in the entrance of the village, in the way from Kosovo towards Belovietz. At 10 a.m. o'clock we were announced that 500 Germans were arriving (later was demonstrated that they were not more than 100), with tanks, mines throwers and other heavy weapons. We observed that when reaching the village, Germans were divided in three groups, and they would try to attack from all sides. We saw they nailed on earth the machine guns with mines throwers, and were prepared to attack.
Unexpectedly we began to open fire, and in this operation fell 70 Germans, we took five prisoners, and the 30 remaining escaped throwing the ammunition that had with them. Of SS Germans that attacked us in a town a half km of Bielovietz, we liquidated to all them. Nobody of them was left alive. Of our side fell 7 men, among them the commandant IVÁN IVANONIVCH and BEREL GURVITSH. We captured trophies: two mines throwers, three machine guns, great quantity of automatic weapons, rifles and ammunition. After this defeat, Germans never returned to the village.
At the end of 1943, Ukrainian and Germans occupied the villages Borovichi, Pliashki, and another village whose name I doesn't remember. They expelled peasants, appropriated their goods, and seated there their military posses. These villages were as the key for all partisan groups that operated in Slonim District. We received an order of the general barracks: to clean of enemy posses at any price the area. Of our organization, were sent the third and quarter corps, and the P. T. O. unit.
December 1943 got ready for this operation three partisans groups: 50 people of the group Kirovsk, 300 people of the group Sovietskaia Belorus, and another group of the union Kapuskas. We all occupied positions previously determined, and we waited the order to begin the attack, all at the same time. Were groups on all roads that led to the villages. We made sure - for all sides - that our interrelation would not be interrupted. Our group occupied the center, in front of the village Borovik.
At 6 a.m. still dawn, commandant SENKIN gave the order to begin combined attack. We attacked the village Borovik, we expelled those that were in the trenches, and we entered the village. We accepted the order of setting on fire the village and the barracks, and we execute the operation. Germans and Ukrainians fixed a doubtful resistance, trying to escape from the trap spread out , but without success. We opened fire against them, and nobody could escape alive. Who dared to escape, was impacted by our bullets.
The fight lasted two hours, and the three villages were erased of the earth. Died 90 Germans and Ukrainian, and we also took prisoners. In total 330 German and Ukrainian deceased. Our trophies: twelve machine guns, automatic weapons, rifles, grenades, horses. Were destroyed a high quantity of people and weapons . Our losses were 25 men and of our group of Kirov 7 men, among them the commandant SERIOSHKA NIETZEV.
Then I went with my P. T. O. and shot on locomotives and trains that went toward the battle front. This was one of most important functions of that moment. With one or several shots, was stopped enemy troops transport movement for a long time. This way, I operated in 1943 and beginning of 1944.
In my group were, me, # 1 of the P.T.O., ANTONENKO # 2, BURAIEV # 3, YLLIOSKA FIEDOROV and NISHENIN. We operated in railway line Brest/Moscow , around the area of Nichatsheve, Ivatzevich, and Brona Gura. The area was very appropriate for our operations, because to both sides extended swamps and forests toward where we could escape. In the course of two months we could take out of circulation 18 locomotives, great quantity of boxcars with ammunitions, and we stopped the movement during many hours.
In February 1944 until I was named P. T. O Group Chief, ANTOSHENKO was designated # 1. The Commandant of the group gave me as recompense an automatic weapon. My function consisted from now on, in intervening in more important operations, but I demanded from my command that in serene and calm days, I could perform other functions. My request was approved.
I went to diverse courses on explosives. Once, in April 1944, 5 men: me, ALIOSHKA KUZMITSH, SERGEI SHAPHILO and another whose name doesn't remember, left toward railroad Brest/Moscow lines between Bluden and Pavlovich, and we destroyed in course of two weeks two transports of troops, one with six ammunition boxcars, and one with several wheat boxcars. Then we joined the ammunition and the groceries and we burned them. The commandant didn't give me permissions to leave as before, because the situation was quite tense. We waited a German attack and my P. T. O. was important for our defense plan against the tanks that frequently entered in our area. From time to time they granted me permission to participate in other actions.
This way, in an opportunity with other four armed people, with my automatic weapon and three friends with hand machine guns and a load of 10 bullets, we left to the area of Volkovisk, between Zelve and Volkovisk. After two nights of arduous work we achieved to get a train line, and caught a complete train with great quantity of ammunition that went in address of Vokovisk and Zelde.
When returning, we decided to execute another operation: we find out that four retrenched Germans came to a village for Christian girls. We surrounded them and we killed them. We captured four pistols and a coat. I left one of the guns for myself. When we returned to our encounter point, we received from the Commandant public gratefulness, he highlighted our self-denial, and announced to grant me a badge of first category, for "fighting for homeland".
In June 1944 we had to overcome difficult surveillances. We had already received from our connection men's news that the posses were fortified in the cities that surrounded the forests of Hute and Michalin , and were separated three German divisions of battle front, to fight against us in the forests. We began to get ready. Daily, with my group P. T. O. and another gun machine division, we came out to the route Hute-Michalin, that took to Ruzhinoi until Selcz.
We received an order: to shoot German tanks in case they appear, and to undertake retreat orderly, returning to the camp. All groups built trenches to defend themselves. We dug "traps for tanks", we mined all roads, and we got ready for the "surveillance"
One night arrived the so much waited "surveillance". Arrived tanks and Panzers that should clean the road of partisans. Whole night Germans sunk their tanks in the traps, in the route to Michalin. Some of our groups faced with the Germans, and 16 people fell. On the following day, to the dawn, we got ready for German attack. We mined all the roads and paths that led to our refuges and groceries deposits. German forces, went to the area of Michalin, Ruzhinoi, Selcz and Kosovo.
First day was calm. The second day, the enemy began a general attack to our forest. Participated tanks, canyons, Panzers and all kinds of heavy weapons. Germans entered in the forest of Brona Gura, Kosovo and Michalin. Our group received the order of defending, and in the event of great enemy force, to retire to a determined place in the swamps. There would meet all groups. The enemy tanks entered the forest and exploded for our mines. For fear, they proved to walk through paths, but there were also destroyed by our mines.
For not daring to go deep in the forest, they exploited our refuges and retired. The partisans didn't suffer loses. Only a group of 18 people perished for not adopting necessary security means. Germans had hundreds of victims. In another opportunity we made the following operation: we find out that was coming one machine with weapons in the route of Ruzhinoi, in a town called Holevitshne. We were: me, BURAIEV, VASKO VOSIAK, GREEN (a Soviet aviator). We hid ourselves near Holevitshne, we captured the machine with the three Germans alive, we forced the chauffeur to enter the forest and then we sent him to his house, and we gave Germans to our posse.
Arrived immediately tanks and Panzers, and they opened a terrible fire against us. We laughed at them, because in the forest we felt sure.
With the beginning of the attack of red army on Vitebsk, we received the order that each group should occupy one defense line in a certain place, and not allow German army to retire in peace. Our group, occupied the village Virtshiky, in the District of Ruzhinoi. We mined the route. We lifted barricades at two km of our lines, we exploited the bridges, and we cut all the roads that led to routes. At the same time, we mined all the roads and paths that went toward the forest Hute-Michalin. About 150 partisans (me included) stayed some days in the village Virchiky.
German army retired through the forests. We received the order to retire of Virchiky and occupy defense lines at 6 km of Brona Gura, near the village Diady, where we exploited the bridge. Germans tried to reconstruct it, and we interrupted them. They believed that we were the vanguard of red army, and that our quantity of men was superior to 150 people. During the whole day, we maintained the fight next to the bridge. Germans penetrated with tanks and Panzers, but when they left their machines, we opened fire. They were not able to reconstruct the bridge.
July 1st. at evening we were communicated that in the village Bielovietz was already red army vanguard, and they came in our help. When listening this news, our commandant YOSEF SAMUILIK asked us to stay orderly, he thanked us the activity, and wished us happiness with the liberation. In few minutes arrived the vanguard of red army, and they occupied defense lines. Germans disappeared, they were surrounded in the forest. The encounter with red army was extraordinarily cordial, and with this finished the chapter of our life as partisans.
(Protocolized by A. Yerushalmi)
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