Chapter VIII - G





By Moishe Tuchman


Most of the Polish population, at least until the year 1939, ignored the town of Kartuz Bereza. The concentration camp, in which there were political prisoners (communists most of them), was known in the town. Rumors about the sufferings and the conditions of the prison became known to most of the Polish population, and this filled them with a lot of fear.


I was born in December 1917 in this small town of Kartuz Bereza. My father was Yehuda Z"L (blessed his memory). My mother was Batia ZACHAROV. We were six children. I was the second. My five brother and sisters were born before and after me. Our house was in Oliand, which began near the house of Shloime VAINSHTEIN and ended near the house of Yehuda POTAK. At the age of three my father took me to study the Cheder, and later I began in the Talmud Torah. I finished my primary studies up to fourth year in the Tarbut School.


After I finished my primary studies, I began to help my father and mother. I want to highlight that there were no factories in our town and its surroundings. There were some sawmills, flourmills, and lime mines. Gentiles generally worked for these companies. Wages were low and the population's main income came from agricultural farms. For this reason low wages were acceptable, since their work (the Gentiles) in the mills was an additional income. There were jobs in the Kartuz Bereza government's offices, but Jews were not allowed to work there.


My father, Z"L, was a merchant, and he was absent from our home a lot. Mom, Z"L, was a dressmaker. A maid whose name was Tania worked in our home She lived in one of the nearby villages, and worked for us for almost 13 years. She had her own room and did almost everything. She was in charge of the boys and made sure that every morning we prayed the Mode Aní, and each evening the Kryat Shma. We had cows in the stable; Tania milked them and for that reason we always had plenty of milk and cheese. We fertilized my grandfather, Leibe TUCHMAN’s Z"L, field with cow manure, and we cultivated potatoes there. In autumn we harvested; a part was brought into the house and the rest was buried in our orchard covered and with straw. In spring we recovered them. We had meat in abundance, that is to say, that from the economic point of view my family didn't have problems.


In 1935 my mother got sick and was taken to the city of Otvotzk near Warsaw. Expenses were high; therefore we had to sell the land that was to the side of our house to Moshe Aron GOLDBERG who built his house there. Due to my mother’s illness, we children had to assume greater duties and responsibilities. I remember that I traveled once to visit her in Otvotzk with my uncle, Moishe TUCHMAN. My sister Reizel also traveled with us and there she married a person named Matat. Two years later mother was cured and returned home. It was an event of great happiness for us.


During 1939 they mobilized me in the Polish army. Most of the Christians were sent to serve in places near their homes. We Jews were sent to the German frontier 600 km. from our town. I remember that on March 21st a group of Jewish soldiers were sent by train to the city of Birgushatz. In Warsaw, a Pole appeared, and when he recognized us Jewish soldiers, he began to scream and to offend us saying, "You Jews will fight? You are always the first ones to betray our homeland!" Of that group of Jews almost nobody survived. All died in Second World War. I am sure that none of the Poles that offended us also lost their lives. 


For three months, we were sent on very harsh maneuvers. Then our group was sent to occupy positions at the German frontier. On September 1, 1939 the Germans attacked Poland; it was the beginning of World War II.


Our group suffered terrible losses. We began to retreat toward the East. On the night of September 17th we reached the Bezura river and undressed to swim across the river. The Germans opened an intense fire on us and I was injured in the back and in the palm of my right hand. In some way I reached the opposite bank of the river with other soldiers, and we ran until we found a car. We got into it and the car driver drove us to Warsaw.  On the road we were bombarded. The car driver left the car at the side of the road and he jumped out, but I and the other wounded men that were in the car could not do so. After resuming our journey, we finally arrived at a Polish military camp named Fortress Morlin. The Germans continued attacking and, on September 26 1939, Warsaw fell, but in Morlin near Warsaw combat continued. I remember that Polish soldiers made the sign of the cross and prayed. That day was Yom Kippur.  The Jewish soldiers including me, hid behind a destroyed wall and we prayed. Some of the soldiers that didn't know how to pray, asked that I pray aloud, and they repeated my prayers.


On September 28, two days after the fall of Warsaw, Morlin fell. They informed us that from that moment on we were free. We had barely left the camp and begun to walk in the road when the Germans stopped us and took us to a camp of prisoners. The conditions there were very severe. We received very little food. Luckily, after a short time we were liberated by the Russians and transported to other areas, which were in their hands. We arrived at Brest where a Russian official received us. Then we traveled by train to our home area and, from the station, we continued on by bus. My siblings had heard that prisoners were liberated, and waited until my bus arrived and then screamed of happiness because I was alive. Apparently a Gentile, who was with me when I was injured, believed that I had died and told the people in the town. Suddenly I appeared at home alive and there was a mixture of happiness and tears. My mother told me was that during the days of the German attack, she went out to the road to Warsaw with one of my sisters, hoping that I might come home.


Very soon I was happy with life under the Soviet system. I received Russian citizenship and began to work in a state office. My function was to provide meat to the Red army. I traveled a lot because I had to buy livestock in the villages, and was also in charge of meat shipments to different cities.


On June 22, 1941, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. They bombarded the airport that the Russian built near Kartuz Bereza. Also the town was bombed. In one of the bombings Simcha FRIDENSHTEIN was killed and there was big fear. The roads were full with all modes of transportation. In the afternoon we tied our horse and cow to our car, took some food along and with Hody and my sisters we traveled from Kartuz Bereza to the village called Bataraia-Dorihitzin.


In this village we had a Jewish relative named Zelik. We arrived at night at his house, slept overnight there, and on the following day we found out that our town Kartuz Bereza had been conquered by the Germans, and that Jews had escaped toward the fields. They were ordered to return to their houses by the Germans. Hody and my sisters returned to the town, but we suspected that the Germans would take our horse, car and cow. Therefore we left them in hands of Zelik.


On the third night that we stayed Zelik’s house, some Russian soldiers knocked on the window. They seemed tired and they were in retreat. They asked us for our horse and car and I told them that I could transport them. I did it.  We traveled toward the West and, when we arrived near the Yasulda River between Chomsk and Kartuz Bereza, a German airplane fired upon us. The Russian soldiers jumped out of the car leaving their weapons behind. There were machine guns, two rifles, and many bullets. I covered all of it with a blanket, which I hid beside an anthill so that I could recover it later without any problem. I traveled to another Jew’s house and I stayed there for some days.


Meanwhile Germans continued ordering that each of us should return home. I exchanged the horse for a smaller one plus a bag of flour and other groceries, and slaughtered the cow. I returned to the town with all these things plus the meat. Immediately after I arrived, I had to sew the shameful symbol with the yellow Mogen David on my clothes.  Germans concentrated the Jews of Kartuz Bereza on two streets: Oliand (that began by the house of VAINSHTEIN and ended by the house of POTAK), and May 3rd Street which began in the street of Mendel RABITZ and ended at the river beside the house of Shepsel LANGER. They placed two doors at the ends of the streets and Jews were forbidden to leave there.  The hardship inside the houses was terrible. German police with the help of local volunteers (who were happy with any job that was given to them, such of squashing Jews) inspected each movement. Every morning all Jews were presented to German authorities, from youths and up to 60 years. They sent them to all kinds of mandatory works. Many returned at the end of the day with signs of blows on their bodies. Many didn't return... I worked in the Construction Department. Our function was to modify a building in the Market Place (where PISETZKY and Chanania AIZENSHTEIN had lived) and to transform them into houses for German soldiers.  I still have a picture that the Germans gave me of that mission.


Immediately after I returned to the town, I reported about the place where I stored the weapons and told it to two gentiles, Boris and Vilodia, who were part of the Komsomol, the youth movement of the communist party, during the Russian domain. After giving them the exact description of the place where the weapons were, they went there, retrieved them and took them to the Vilodia house in the village Karpushi. At the same time, some Jewish youths in the Ghetto and I began to get captured Russian weapons from military camps that the Germans threw away. We hid these weapons among firewood, and we were able to supply some rifles, bullets and mines to people in to Ghetto who would put them to good use at the right time.


We could have escaped from the Ghetto and disappear from there, when we went to work. But, where could we go? Gentiles were happy to see all Jews liquidated, and partisans began to act only at the beginning of 1942. Not only this but there were rumors that partisan bands killed everybody they found, to take weapons from them. On the other hand the situation in the Ghetto worsened day by day. We were ordered once through the JUDENRAT, that we should state where each of us worked. They divided the Jews in two Ghettos, according to the register. We lived in Ghetto A and remained living there. One morning agents of the JUDENRAT surrounded the Ghetto, and many families (among them all my family), were sent to Ghetto B. I prepared a hiding place in our grandparent’s house for my sister Masha, but she preferred to stay in Ghetto A.  Jews that were in Ghetto B were tossed to the street, and from there, under a severe custody, were transferred to the Bluden train station.  They asked: "Where are they taking us?”  The Germans answer was,  "To Bialystok", where there was a lack of manpower. There were rumors that some Jews tried to escape but they were shot and killed. Of course, Jews were not transported to Bialystok but to the death valley of Brona Gura. There, they had prepared mass graves, and with great cruelty Jews were shot and buried. In the town on the same day we knew about the terrible German cruelty.


Yudel PILSHETZIK from the town of Selcz and I decided to escape to the forest. I said goodbye to my sister Masha, who I tried to take out of the Ghetto. Yudel PILSHETZIKY and I came out that morning to work, equipped with axes like everyone else. We placed ourselves last in the line. We left the hall door of the Ghetto, walking down the Pruzhany Street en route to the military camp. When passing near a small rise of land we jumped over it near a grain field, we hid behind the rise and we removed the symbol of the yellow Mogen David. Avremel SHABRINSKY and Moishe Eli EPSHTEIN who worked in the carpentry shop saw us. They hid us among lumber piles; we asked them to join us and escape to the forest. Also, I asked them to call Eliezer KOLODNER who worked next to them as an electrician. Eliezer arrived and he told us that Feigel KRINSKI escaped from Ghetto B to the home of Boris, a Gentile friend, where he was hidden. I told KOLODNER that our objective was the gentile peasant's house called Demian, near some fields that my grandfather owned. I met with peasant Demian who hated Germans; his son was a communist and lived in Russia. Then I asked Yudel and Eliezer to come with us to join up with Feigel and Boris, so they came with the group. At night, I went with Yudel PILSHETZIK and the group to the house of Demian, and in the morning we arrived, tired and battered, at his barn. We fall asleep on the heaps. Demian woke us up. We were happy to see Boris and Feigel. He took us to the barley field because, according to him, it was a safe place. We hid there, and his wife brought us food and drinks. Towards evening we said goodbye to Demian, and we went toward the village, Karpashi. Near the mount, at the entrance to the village, Boris went to a see the Gentile, Valodia, and both returned with weapons.


Valodia was afraid of coming with us since he worked for an agricultural peasant from whom the Germans had asked for taxes and food. If they found out that he was in the forest, they would kill his mother and sister, who had still not escaped to Russia. We entered the village. It was evening, we shot several shots in the air and we asked an agricultural peasant, "Who among you has been accused and reported to the Germans"? He answered that apart from his family, a Russian worker that could not escape because Germans had already invaded the area. We tied the worker’s hands and told him that we would take him to the forest to judge him. We warned the agricultural peasant that he should not leave the house. When we left the village, Valodia told us that in the house of a peasant nearby there were weapons. We went there in a hurry. The peasant answered that he didn't have weapons, so we took his son and we put him against the wall, saying that we would shoot him if in ten minutes he didn't bring the weapons. The peasant brought two rifles and a metallic box containing many bullets. The peasant and his family were full of fear. They suspected that we were policemen, but I knew their daughter-in-law (she worked for SHMEREL the shoemaker, our neighbor). They gave us food. We hurried to go to the forests between Kartuz Bereza and Selcz. We looked for partisans there but we could not find them. Valodia decided to go to a forest near the village. He was sure that he would find partisans there. Germans caught him, and he committed suicide jumping from the upper floor of the camp.


We found two partisans. They told us that in that forest a unit of partisans acted under the leadership of Ganka.  All who the partisans found were shot and their weapons were confiscated. They suggested that we go the Rudziniar forest, near Michailin, 10 kilometers away. When arriving there it was necessary to shoot twice to the air, and wait. We went to Rudziniar and suddenly we were surrounded of partisans. "Leave the weapons on the floor" they ordered us. We told them that we came from Bereza and that our objective was to fight against the Germans. I also told them that I was in the Polish army and that I knew the whole area very well. We also told them that other youths wanted to join us. The commandant told us that since we had weapons he would accept us into his group. We ate well and the commandant sent us with another partisan to get a radio .We went to the house of a peasant who was our connection. I gave him a letter for my friend the electrician KOLODNER; to whom I had written that the partisans in the Rudziniar forest had received us and that anyone that had weapons would be welcome. I asked him to tell my sister Masha and the rest of my friends that they had to get weapons and come. In a hiding place in the Ghetto, my grandfather had hidden a radio. I asked him to take it and give it to the peasant. Indeed after several days the radio arrived, and also a group of Jews including my sister Masha, Alter KONOTOVSKY, Donie BERKOVITZ, Nachum FRYDMAN, Yankel AHARONOVITZ, Dovid BAKALACH and Abraham APELBOIM.  All were welcomed into the partisans group.


Our group had several departments and levels. There was, for example, a level whose function was to get food in the villages. Another group cooked, and a third group watched over the camp. With eight other men, they assigned me to the group whose functions were acts of sabotage and assault. I remember that we once went to a village called Zoba beside the Bluden rail station where we collected winter clothes and boots for the group. In another house we saw a peasant who had a list and receipts in his hand. He was responsible for receiving cereals in Bluden. Our commandant ordered five of us to take the winter coats that we picked up across the lake and then wait. The commandant, one person of our unit and I, took the above-mentioned peasant and walked to an area walled with barbed wire. The peasant and the commandant waited beside the entrance door. The second partisan and I set the heaps on fire. The peasant ran to his house and we returned to the forest. The gendarmes shot at us but we were able to cross the lake, and to rejoin our friends.


We found out afterwards, that the Germans killed the entire security personnel responsible for the surveillance of the area. A group of our unit went to meet with the partisan group commanded by Ganka. Our men killed the entire group. The peasants of the villages were very happy because Ganka and their group were very cruel. They drank strong drinks and violated women.


On August 2nd we entered into a combined action with the group of Dimitrov’s partisans who inhabited the forests of Brona Gura and Kosova, in order to conquer the town of Kosova, and to acquire weapons and other military supplies for our fight. Previous to this action, we set all the bridges that lead into Kosova on fire. The group of partisans called Shuris from the Vlotsha Gura forest also participated in this action. Our attack failed. The Germans and the police answered with strong fire and we sustained casualties, both wounded and dead. Among the dead was our friend Dunia BERKOVITZ Z"L (blessed be his name). We reported that we were in retreat, with the intention of reforming and attacking more fiercely. We had hardly retreated when the Germans abandoned the town, so we re-entered the town and obtained a great quantity of weapons and all the flour that was there. Jews of Kosova were forced to escape to the Vlotsha Gura forest, but the partisans didn't accept them and Gentiles didn't help them. In the end, the Germans in Vlotsha Gura annihilated them all. G-d avenge their blood!! Then, the Germans decided to annihilate the partisans; they bombarded the forests and they scouted the area with trained dogs. Partisans were generally Russian, and they went toward the West, to the forests and swamps. But when commandants of the Russian armies found out, he ordered all to return to their original places and from there they should fight against Germans.


Before going to the Russian frontier, the partisans sent me to Kartuz Bereza to bring back several necessary things. I met KOLODNER and another person. A shoemaker called Guershon KABRAN made a couple of leather boots for me. I also received sanitary equipment. I returned to the forest with Guershon KABRAN, Chaim ZUBINSKY, and another young man of Kobrin that was in the Bereza Ghetto. Of course we were successful because we had weapons.


When we arrived in the forest, the partisan camp was not there, but we saw footsteps, the imprint of shoes on the ground. A German airplane flew over our heads. Quickly, we left and went toward houses that were still inhabited by peasants. We hid in the forest several days, and one afternoon we entered the village of Mormishova. There I found members of my group who told me that some had left for the Russian frontier. We wanted to stay with them but they told us that it was easier to operate in small groups so we left them. After several days, two young men who were with me decided to return to the Kartuz Bereza Ghetto. "It may be", they told me, "that they would continue toward Pruzhany", which was at the frontier with the Third Reich. I said goodbye to them and I returned with partisans to Mormishova where I was well received. One evening we were cooking food in the village and suddenly we saw a huge cloud of smoke that came from the direction of Bereza. We heard shots but we did not know what was happening. Later we learned that the Germans had liquidated the Ghetto. Jews had set it on fire and using their weapons tried to escape, but the Germans liquidated them all, old and young.


During autumn my group returned from the Eastern frontier and, with others of our group, we joined them. "Where is my sister Masha and her Jewish friends"?  I asked the commandant of the group. He answered that while they were walking west they found a group of Jews, and she and her friends were in the group. I was very anxious to know what happened to my sister. We brought our wounded to the village of Sabrin. They told me there was a Jewish youth from Kartuz Bereza, named KARBATSHIK, near the village in a partisans group. I asked to meet him. In spite of every effort I made to know my sister's destiny, it was not possible. I believe that Germans or Russian killed her. Be blessed her memory!


We received explosive materials from Russia in metallic boxes.  We loaded railroad cars with dynamite. Commandants gave orders for this work to each group, and there was a competition among us to see who could explode the most German trains. Germans were very careful in protecting the railroads. They felled trees on both sides of the roads, at a distance of 300 meters on each side.  At each kilometer, they built a control tower equipped with reflectors and an armed soldier. I belonged to a group of eight partisans whose boss was Siroza Rotits. Before the war he lived in the Bluden train station and he was a communist. I loaded a rifle and a gun, and my assistant a handbag with mines. During the cold winter nights we dressed in long white shirts that covered our head. We sometimes walked the whole night in spite of the bad conditions. We could explode 13 trains a night. The Germans decided not to send any more trains at night. In one of these actions my assistant died and Abraham EPELBOIM assumed his duties. He told me that when his group went westward, he dug a well in a mound near the village where he was born, called Yazbits and he hid there during every winter. His relative, a Gentile, brought him some food from time to time. He also told me that KOLODNER, the electrician, escaped from the Ghetto, but he died on the way to the village of Darhitzen. News from the battlefront was encouraging. We heard rumors that Russian soldiers reached the city of Kovel, only 100 Km. from us. Let us remember that the Russian soldiers knew that if one of us fell into German hands they would be killed, and for this reason they fought with great bravery


One day the commandant sent me to the village of Raphalovka, to find the Red army. While on the road, we entered the camps of rural families that had escaped into the forest; they received us very well.  We ate and slept there. I found Tania that had worked as a maid in my house there; she was very happy to find me alive and gave me a bowl of soup and soap with which I washed myself. They brought me a clean blanket. The following day we were drafted into the Red army and they mobilized us for their services. They transferred us to Kelt. We had to carry out difficult maneuvers. Then they integrated us to the division Gvarskaia that was famous for it's efficiency in the battlefield and in multiple conquests. All men that completed their primary school cycle, I was among them, were designated commandants. We were sent to the battlefield at Shots where the bombs filled us with fear. I thought to myself, “Will I live?”  Soldiers wrote letters to their dear relatives, but whom could I write to? I remembered an aunt in New York and her address. I wrote her in Yiddish, telling what happened to Jews. I add that thanks to the Russian army, in whose service I was, we could destroy the Nazi army and get the victory for the world. After many years I found out that the letter arrived to its addressee and was published.


Some time later, the Red army began a great offensive against the Germans   Our division also attacked and conquered Kovel and Radna. We crossed the river Bug near Brest and we conquered Shedlitz. We stopped in front of Warsaw where the Germans resisted and we suffered many injuries. Sometimes we received men of the rearguard as reinforcements to take the place of the wounded. Ultimately we conquered Warsaw and we came closer to Germany. When the war ended, our Division was tired and beat. They sent us to Poland. I applied for discharge from the Red army, to be able to travel to Bereza to look for my sister. My application was granted but, instead of traveling to Bereza, I hitch hiked to Lublin, thinking that I could cross the frontier and go to Eretz Israel. In Lubin I found a Jew that suggested that I travel with him to the city of Chelem. Many Jews who were concentrated there had a house in which they met. On one of the walls they had written survivors' names and addresses. Among them was the name of a Gentile that lived in Otwosk. I went to his house, knocked on the door and my sister Reizel opened it. She had a young child in her arms. I almost fainted, as I was overcome at seeing her there. We had not seen each other for seven years, since 1938!  The small child asked: "Who is this man? Maybe he is also a Jew"?  My sister answered: "He belongs to the good Jews that didn't kill Christ". Reziel and her husband, Mats, gave me nice clothes and they suggested to me that I should live with them. I thanked them and I told them that I fought for Poland and for Russia; now I want to find the road to Eretz Israel, because I want to fight for the Jews.


Some time later I found a Jew whose last name was BAS who was a refugee of Raphaluvka. He told me that their family also was getting ready to immigrate to Eretz Israel. I stayed in contact with him and after some days we traveled to Lublin. My sister and her husband said goodbye, and they gave me a quantity of American dollars. In Lublin we spent the night in the home of a Jewish family whose last name was RYBACK from Volyn. There, we received false documents from the Red Cross, which stated that we were Greeks of Jewish descent, survivors of the fields. Traveling with these documents we arrived in Rumania and from there we entered into the Northern part of Italy, where soldiers of the Jewish brigade received us and they transferred us to a camp of refugees near Milan. There I met Rivka, born in the city of Libau in Latvia; and I married her. From Milan we were transferred to Margenta. I was in charge of the provision of foods for emigrants in illegal ships going to Eretz Israel. From Italy I wrote my uncles Zeev and Henia MILLER (Z"L, blessed their names) telling them I hoped arrive in Eretz Israel. Their answer was, "Welcome, you can live in our house". I requested that my superiors release me from my job in order that my wife and I could emigrate. One fine day, we were transferred to a closed freight truck that took us to the port of La Specia. On the road Italian Police stopped us and asked if we were Fascist Italians trying to escape to Spain. When they saw that we were Jews, they allowed us to continue.


Our group was loaded on two ships and prepared to sail to Eretz Israel, but the British came aboard and tried to make us leave the ships. We refused and we proclaimed a hunger strike and for three days we did not either eat or drink and may of the group fainted. From the publicity given our plight, the population in Eretz Israel identified with our cause. Israeli Minister Harold Laski came to the ship and asked us to put an end to the strike. We accepted, with the condition of receiving entrance permission to enter Eretz Israel. They gave us the required certificates and with happiness we went back aboard ship and it sailed to the port of Haifa. At the port I was met and transported by Elizaf TABULITZKY, of my uncle’s family. It was in May of 1946.


From then on, and from the depths of my memory I recall the names of all the martyrs of Bereza that were annihilated. I drew the map of the town, its streets, its institutions and their houses. I gave the map and all this valuable material, my memories, to YAD VASHEM when it was founded.


The home of uncles Zeev and Henia MILLER (Z"L, blessed their names) was always open to other immigrants, especially if they were from Kartuz Bereza. They had emigrated to Eretz Israel in 1933 and their only son, Israel, (Z"L, blessed his name) died during the war of Independence, while he defended the caravan, Iechiam, (that protected Jerusalem). My uncles created a fund to help emigrants of Bereza, and they contributed with an appreciable quantity of money for this objective. With the fund’s money, a monument was erected in the cemetery of Cholon, for the martyrs of Bereza. May their names be remembered for good!