It was apparent that the Russian military staff wanted to maintain their position in Malch longer, but the Germans took advantage of the dry summer and speeded up their offensive. They encircled Malch through the Vigoder forest and the court gardens toYamnik. The Russians, afraid that they would be surrounded by the Germans, were forced to retreat.

In Bereze we encountered a different mood, a quiet atmosphere. Nobody thought of running away. The people there were hopeful that the transition to the Germans would take place without any suffering. Wednesday and Thursday passed comparatively quietly but on Friday the German artillery suddenly started to shell without interruption. From time to time, the German airplanes cruised around the city but they did not drop any bombs.

On Saturday morning, the last Russian military units retreated and about eleven o'clock I saw several German riders galloping through the Berezer market place. The riders stopped a Russian soldier, a Jew, with whom I had conversed a short time earlier. The soldier dropped his rifle and raised his hands. One of the Germans stuck the rifle into the ground and ordered the soldier to follow him. Shortly thereafter, the German infantry and other military units arrived in Bereze. The German artillery remained behind the barracks. There were many Russian prisoners who were gathered there. The majority of them were hidden out in different places where they wanted to surrender to the Germans.

The Berezer population was glad and joyful and they wished each other "Good Luck" that finally quiet days would arrive. However, unfortunately, the joy was premature. The Russian army did not go far. It crossed the Yaselde river and stopped in a hilly area in Brona Gura. That place became the army's stronghold. Who could have imagined that about 25 years later the same place would become a mass grave of the Jews from the surrounding towns who were shot and killed by the Nazi savages.

It was cloudy at midday and it rained intermittently. About four o'clock in the afternoon the Russian artillery started shelling the German positions. All of the shells flew over the city. In the evening the German patrols ordered the people to close all shutters on the windows and commanded all the people to stay in the dark in order not to become targets for the Russian artillery.

The first Jewish victims were Hershel Serlin and his wife. About 10 o'clock in the evening they were killed when an artillery shell fell on their house. There was panic among all of our inhabitants in Malch and Bereze. Whoever had the possibility, harnessed their horses and wagons and proceeded on their way towards the West. Those who did not have a wagon walked and carried some of their belongings. It was already daylight when we passed the barracks. On both sides of the highway there were many German cannons and artillery guns. It appeared that the Russian artillery did hit their targets at nighttime because, around the highway, there were new tombs with pointy German helmets placed on them.

In Bereze the battles lasted several days. The Russians crossed the Yasedle in several places. In Seltz where the same battle line continued, the Cossacks returned there a few times. The town was already occupied by the Germans. Finally the Germans got the upper hand and the Russians retreated behind Baranowicz and Pinsk.

Over 30 Jews were killed in Bereze and many houses were burned down. Throughout our departure, the Germans stopped us and searched our wagons then let us proceed. In the evening we arrived back in Malch. We knew that town was already burned down. On our way to Malch, the Germans kept on repeating the news: "Malch kaput, alles kaput, die grosse synagoge auch kaput" (Malch is destroyed, everything is destroyed, the big synagogue is also destroyed).

Out of necessity, we found a place where we could stay overnight. The places that remained intact were: the entire Aneliner street, the Zaluzer street on both sides, the bath, Moishe Aleksandrowski's large house (the white brick house), the post office and the Kawkazer street with the synagogue. Samarowsker street was burned down but the mills were untouched. The palace along with many houses remained intact in the courtyard. Half of the Gentile street, behind the church, was burned down but the other half toward Jamnik was not destroyed. The school with the administrative office was burned down. The warehouse for storing grain was not damaged but it was totally empty. The Gentile street to the left side of the warehouse remained intact.

Not all Malchers came back. Some families went farther away from Bereze. Yankel Velvel's (Pomeranietz) and Chaim (Mindel Goldberg's father) died on the way. Some families traveled by train to Minsk. These were the Rabbi's children, his son-in-law Rabbi Shlomo and his family, Yudel-Chaim Averbuch and his family, and the "Feldsher" (the old time barber-surgeon) Seletski and his family.

Some Gentiles remained in Malch: the old Pavliuk with his wife Teodora whom the Cossacks persuaded to stay and assured them that the Germans would not harm them. Another man, Antos, and his family returned to Malch. There remained only one old peasant in all of the neighboring towns. He lived in Podkraicze. Also, a few families remained in the hamlets of Zasin around Voptcze (Obecz on the map).


After being homeless for a few days in unbearably cramped places, we prepared ourselves for our future destination. We started to move to the Gentile street after the Germans emptied the abandoned houses. Thus, all of those houses were occupied. Some people settled in the courtyard and also in Chvanik.

Luckily, there were several barns full of grain and untouched fields with potatoes that were ripe to be dug out and also gardens full of vegetables. The gardening tools were stored in every house and barn. The people started to work eagerly to provide for themselves with food for the whole winter. The men ground up corn and barley into meal. There was very little oats because the German military detachments took it for their horses. The women were very busy digging out the potatoes. The smaller children stayed at their homes and prepared the food. The people did not overlook the empty and abandoned villages where there also was a lot of grain, potatoes and vegetables. When the Russians retreated, they took with them all the live-stock and during the German invasion very few cows were left therefore, there was no milk available in that area. The Germans did not disturb our work. In fact, they wanted that the people should provide food for themselves. From time to time they would take away a good horse from the Jews and give them a stamped receipt so that the Jews would get paid after the war. The Germans would catch a horse and wagon and would order the people to bring them to another place. There were some cases that the Germans would beat up the Jews whom they found grinding the grain in a nearby village. They accused them of stealing the grain. There were, however, only a few such incidents.

With regard to hygiene, Malch remained helpless. There was neither a doctor nor a medicine man, to say nothing of medication. Everything was evacuated, everything was ruined. The water was unsafe to drink, the two water pumps were destroyed. Day in, day out there were cases of dysentery, typhus and also cholera. Saane, the bricklayer, Goldberg, Shepsel and Yankel Shachnas (a giant of a man) - all of them died of cholera within a few hours. (Yankel Shachnas was a soldier and when his detachment passed near our area, he deserted the Russian army and came to Malch).

One of the first plagues was an invasion of flies. They carried bacteria of various diseases because of the scattered dead horses and unburied corpses. These insects spread the infectious diseases throughout the town.

There was no kerosene or naphtha in Malch at that time. Whoever had a little of it, he used it to ignite the wick of a small glass lamp. Most of the people would use the cut up wooden thin sticks to ignite their lamps. Also, salt was a scarce product. After boiling potatoes in salted water, the drained water was reused for cooking other things.

There was no soap available. The people found out that ash could be used as a cleaning substance that acts like soap. The laundry was soaked in water that was mixed with ashes. This "detergent" was used until the end of World War I.

Among the devastated towns, Pruzana was the only town that remained untouched (Malch, Bereze and Seltz were almost totally destroyed). Pruzana was situated in a strategic location and therefore, apparently, was intentionally left intact. With the exception of a few individuals who were able to take their wares and fabric to Russia (for example, Shlomo Rafael Owol's manufacture), all other stores remained in Pruzana. The "Pruzana Miracle" became a blessing for the whole area. The Pruzaner inhabitants, under the guardianship and responsibility of a committee composed of several scrupulous people, began to provide articles starting with the most important one - salt. The first Malcher Jews, who visited Pruzana after the destruction of the town, brought back good news - that there was salt in Pruzana and, to paraphrase a passage from the Passover haggadah: "Kol Dichfin" (let all those who are hungry enter and eat). Thus, the Malcher people came to Pruzana to obtain salt. The people had to walk because it was too risky to use a horse and wagon, since the Germans would take them away and would pay with a so-called "promissory note".

As long as I live, I will never forget the wonderful kindness when my mother, may she rest in peace, and I came to Pruzana to obtain salt. It was on the seventh day of the Sukkoth holiday, a very beautiful, sunny day. The salt warehouse was somewhere on Kobriner street. We met many people there almost all from the surrounding towns. Each person received about 25 pounds of salt (for me and my mother - 50 pounds). This was a real fortune and the price was not much higher than it was before the destruction of our town. (With great respect I must honor the Jews from Pruzana who, about 25 years later during the horrible times of the German Nazi occupation in 1941-1943, distinguished themselves with their wonderfully compassionate conduct which is mentioned by all those who witnessed their social work during those terrible years). 

I would like to mention about an incident that happened as we walked back from Pruzana. Several Hungarians were riding on horseback in front of us. They chased a young Jewish man who wore some clothing that looked very suspicious as it was obvious that the clothing did not belong to him. He looked very scared as though he sensed an imminent danger. The Hungarians found out that he came from Brestovice and that he deserted from the Russian army when he was near his hometown. Since his parents lived in Malch, he was on his way to see them. The Hungarians asked him to show them the direction to the village Winice, but being a stranger in that area he did not know. The Hungarians again became suspicious of him. As we approached them, we showed them the direction to that village and, luckily, they let the young man proceed.

From the Rabbi's family there remained the Rabbi, his wife and their son Shalom Leizer. The Malcher Jews provided them with bread, potatoes and other necessities. The Rabbi's family also moved into a Gentile house. There were only a few torn books that remained from the Rabbi's vast library with a collection of precious books from many generations.

With regard to providing the Rabbi's family with food, it is appropriate to underscore a kind gesture of a Gentile. Before the evacuation, the Gentiles were able to thresh their grain. Some of them put the threshed grain into boxes and hid them in the ground. Afterwards, when they needed the grain, they would dig out the boxes. They buried not only their grain but also linen, flax and other things. The first person who found the hideout was the Gentile, Antos, whose name I mentioned previously. He knew about the places for hiding grain and other things. He dug out a box of 80 lbs. of corn from a burned down place that belonged to one of the richest Gentiles in Malch. He gave some of it to the Jews. He personally brought a good part of this corn to the Rabbi's house. In general, the same Antos was very friendly to the Jews One day as he was riding in the streets he exclaimed, "Jews sow your corn seed - sow next to my field!". These fields were already plowed up for sowing the corn. However, the Jewish people did not listen to him, hoping that the war would not last long and that they would have to wait too much time in order to harvest the corn crop. Later on, the people regretted their not paying attention to Antos' advice but, in fact, nothing became of his sowing. All of the seeds were eaten up by huge flocks of crows.


The Germans began to establish themselves militarily in the entire area. First of all, they shortened the railroad line. They also constructed an airport in Bereze and converted the military barracks into a hospital that was filled up with wounded soldiers from the front line. In Lineve, north of the railroad station, in the forest, they built huge warehouses for ammunition and clothing. In order to facilitate their transportation, they constructed three new railroad branches. In Pruzana they built a huge parking lot to service their military front line.

When the Austrians and Hungarians marched in, there was no governing authority. Pruzana and Bereze already had military commanders who controlled the civilian life. In Malch, on the other hand, whatever one wanted to do one would do. There was no authorized person in power. A few weeks after the holiday, Sukkoth, several units of Austrians and Hungarians arrived in Malch. They settled in the court yard and set up their command in the palace. Only then was order established in the town.

The new rulers created a Jewish council and appointed the steady "Head", Yankel, along with several militiamen (Aaron Leib Kaplan, Yoshua Yankel Havas and Sapir). This council had to fulfill the orders given by the authorities. The first act was to exchange the currency - two Austrian krones for one Russian ruble. The second order for the Jews was to turn in all the copper and brass house wares but, the truth is that these items were not confiscated. The people received a certain negligible price for each item. Also, the Jews had to give away all their Sabbath candlesticks from their homes as well as from the synagogues. There were several Jews who gathered all the brass from the burnt down synagogues, as though it belonged to them and sold it to the Austrian occupiers. Many Jews, however, hid part of this metal in the ground and they dug it out after the war. The command authority also confiscated the flax and linen that the Jewish people gathered from the abandoned peasants' houses in the neighboring villages.

The Pruzana and Bereze command authority consisted of Germans. We, in Malch, were under the Austro-Hungarian reign and, therefore, were considered as a "strange domain". In order to get to the German occupied territory, we needed a permit. Those who had to go to Pruzana to bring something back to Malch, had to pay with a 5 ruble gold coin for the permit.

The commanding authorities administered a general vaccination against typhoid fever. This was done for the population as a health care. The people stood in a long line at Moishe Aleksandrowski's house where the military doctors carried out the immunization.

Shortly thereafter, another order was given that all deserters from the Russian army and all escapees from the detention camp should report to the command authority. There were such people in our area, however who stayed at their homes. One of them, a Jew from Kovno, who deserted nearby Malch and stayed at Shmuel the Matchmaker's house, was taken to the command authority. (It seems that there was no way out, no other choice). As a result the Kovno Jew and his host Shmuel were sent away to a camp for prisoners of war in Hungary. Only after a successful intercession, Shmuel was finally released and brought back home a few months later.
I had already mentioned before about the homeless people from Brisk. Then another command was issued ordering that all refugees from out-of-town had to leave Malch. On a certain day, in the morning, we escorted the Brisker Jews to the railroad station in Bluden. They were sent by train to the Lomza region.

Little by little we got accustomed to the new rulers. The good news was that in the office of the military commander there were several Jewish officers - our brethren from Galicia. They spoke to us in Yiddish. They respected the religious people. The commandant was Hungarian and also a nice man. When my father, may he rest in peace, would often come to the commandant's office, he was received with the words: "sit down, Rabbi Mordecai!" Naturally, in such a situation the discipline was not very strict. By the same token, the several deserters from our town were not bothered. As the time progressed, we were convinced that such a situation was not temporary. As long as we had a peaceful life, this was of primary importance. We were able to buy cows near Bereze for reasonable prices. We brought wood for heating our homes from the surrounding forest. However, we had to steal the wood because we were not allowed to take any. Somehow we were able to provide ourselves with enough wood for the winter. Later on, the authorities issued an order to bring all the wood from Bereze and gather it in one place where it was burnt to obtain wood-coal. This by-product was shipped to Germany and Austria. The work was done by Italian captives.

The cultural situation was very bad. Most of all, this had an adverse effect on education. There were no religious schools and the children became backward. The young people tried as much as possible to be active culturally. They would assemble in the small abandoned Gentile house that, later on, was occupied by the teacher Gerszkowicz from Szereszow (Shereshev), Rachael-Miriam Soloweiczik's son-in-law. He was a talented man who would recite Sholem Aleichem's writings to the audience. Such gatherings would take place on Saturday. In the summertime, the people would get together in the "magazine" (storehouse) where a greater number of participants could be accommodated.

During that winter the young people organized a spectacle. In the above mentioned storehouse they performed Sholem Aleichem's play "The Matchmaker". The people felt comfortable there, since the winter was mild. The Austrian junior officers kept order and it was a very successful performance. My brother Yaakov, may he rest in peace, excelled as the "Matchmaker" and Chaitshe Gersh was outstanding as the "Mother" in the play. This was the only show in Malch during the first world war.

There was a problem with matzah for Passover. No white flour was available anywhere. As a substitute for white flour, the corn flour was sifted and they then baked the matzah at Fruma Heshel's home. The corn matzah was black and hard, but still it was matzah. We did not have any meat either. In order to be less hungry, our Rabbis granted a dispensation allowing the people to eat beans, peas and lentils (normally these legumes were not kosher for Passover). This dispensation was effective throughout the war years.