I was born in ‘27, though all my documents said ‘26. When my brother and I joined the partisans, he said to pretend to be a year older.
I was born in Minsk. I had two brothers. They were both older. My dad’s name was Motik, my mom’s -- Esther. The oldest brother was Leo, the youngest -- Isaac. One brother joined the army before the war, in ‘40, and was killed. I was left with my brother, my mom and my dad. And then the war started. We wound up in the ghetto.
The Germans rounded up all the Jews and told us where to move. My brother and I tried to run from Minsk, but we took some wrong turns and ended up coming back.
My grandfather died in the ghetto. They took him away in front of our eyes during a pogrom. My mom, her sister, and me, we all hid, but he was too old, we couldn’t hide him, and they took him away. They called him a dog in German. They said “old dog, go carry your red flag.”. We were in the basement, hiding behind the firewood. Their boots, their German boots were stomping just over our heads. We heard them toss a few logs aside and give up. “Let’s go,” they said, “there’s nothing else here.” This happened on November 7th 1941.
They left and then, that night, we were told we could come out, that the Germans were gone. We moved to a different block afterwards.
I worked at a brick plant. The Germans drove us there. Once, on the way back, we were stopped by the SS. You should have seen the dogs the Germans had with them. They were huge.
They surrounded the car, with their huge dogs, and started checking everything. We had a good German with us, our driver, he stood up for us. He came out of the car, he was Austrian, and they talked and talked. He said we were great workers. Lots of praise. We heard all of it, some of us understood them. Then they told him to go, to go fast. He took the car and drove somewhere far. He got out, got on his knees and prayed. He prayed for us, so that we’d be left alive. He told us that they would have killed us, that he got us spared as “good workers.” We were kissing him and hugging him. For three days we were with him, and he gave us food and water. He saved us.
When we got home after those few days, my mother was gone. There was a pot of soup that she was cooking on the range. They all died in the gas wagons. My mom, all my cousins. All dead. There was no one left.
That German, he helped as best he could. He’d say “come here, give me a pot,” and he’d say “go wash it, and make sure it’s clean.” I’d look and see it was full of soup. He’d say “eat.” He’d feed us. Then he’d ask “Is it clean?”. “I’ll have more for you to clean tomorrow,” he’d say. He’d bring soup and other things, quietly, so that no one would see. He’d share his food with us, from his pot.
Everyone that could fight went to join up with the partisans. My cousin went to fight, but the Germans got him, found out where he lived and came to his home. His grandmother, his mother, they were all sent to the gas van. They took his aunt by the scruff of her neck and just threw her into the van. We saw it all through our window. They killed all of them before our very eyes. The whole family.
In April of ‘42 my brother also joined the partisans. We came home, and he wasn’t there. I didn’t know where he went. They came to ask, and we didn’t know. He went ahead and then sent for us. He couldn’t come back himself, but he sent someone instead. We just got up and ran away as we were.
It was tough with the partisans. We were never in one place for long. We’d spend a week in one forest, then a week in another. We’d go through the forests, do recognisance. The Germans would chase us, there were battles. There was hunger and cold. We’d lie and sleep in the snow, live under the bushes. Sometimes we made shacks. We were starving, we drank dirty water. There was a lot of everything. Two years in the forest were tough. It was a miracle we came out alive.
My brother died. He went on a mission and was wounded, so he killed himself to avoid capture. It was just my dad and I from that point.
When they liberated Minsk, we came back from the partisans. Our house was destroyed, and an old neighbor took us in. He gave me and my dad a room. Jews used to live in that house, but they were killed, and he moved in. He’s constantly talk about kikes this and kikes that. And he stole from us all the time. He’d always pick fights, make our lives miserable. He’d barge in in the morning and yell “so, kikes, did you sleep well?” This is all we ever heard from him. And he’d steal anything and everything. What kind of a life is that?
His wife was nice. She’d yell at him and she’d ask us “Why are you putting up with him? Punch him in the face a time or two, and he’ll calm down”. We ignored him. Sometimes he’d be good, sometimes he’d steal. We were thankful he took us in though.
It is hard to believe that we managed to survive. Sometimes you think back to all of this and you’re amazed that you’re alive.