Some 10,000 Jews in Belarus escaped the Holocaust to participate in the resistance behind German lines. Of these, 7000 lived. Here is part of their story.
The partisans began as individual Jews who fled into the woods to escape Nazi liquidation, establishing stone-age “family camps” and “dug-out towns” in the thick of the forest. The Jewish refugees were soon joined by Belarusan nationalists, Soviet POW draft-labor deserters, and miscellaneous others suffering under Nazi oppression. The Jewish camps were mostly guarded by armed Jewish youths, although there were also many cases of non-Jewish guerrillas protecting Jewish “family camps” and even assigning food to them from their own stock.
The Jews were the first to develop guerrilla warfare units, generally excluding non-Jews. This reflected the difficulties Jewish fighters encountered when they sought to join non-Jewish groups, although they also felt more comfortable being separate. Some of the bands had an outlaw character and Jews who tried to join them were stripped of their weapons and possessions, sometimes killed and at best thrown out. There were also instances where Jewish bands were attacked by non-Jewish guerrillas in order to steal their weapons. Such chaos lasted until the end of 1942 or the beginning of 1943, when the Central Staff of the Soviet Partisan Movement finally succeeded in imposing its authority and discipline on all guerrilla bands.
The reason for the early Soviet disorganization was two-fold. First, it is doubtful that the Communist leaders succeeded in, or even thought of, leaving any kind of organized anti-German underground in Belarus before their frantic flight. Afterwards they were more interested in spying and sabotage under their own direction than sabotage by partisan units. The Soviets drafted Belarusan youths studying in Russian universities and trained them in infiltration methods behind German lines. These people were actually instructed to stay clear of the guerrilla movement so they could enter the German administration as spies. This left the guerrillas throughout 1941 and 1942 with little leadership and few weapons and supplies.
Guerrilla bands at first begged for food, then as they gathered numbers began raiding villages. When the Soviets finally became serious about organizing a partisan resistance, the guerrillas were offered food and weapons in exchange for obedience, and partisans no longer had to harass the local populace. Only in 1943, when the partisan units had gained substantial strength and organization, did they finally begin attacking the Germans. It has been estimated that of the several tens-of-thousands of partisans in Belarus at the end of 1942, only 10,000-11,000 were Jews, of whom 3000 died during the war.
During the three year Nazi occupation of David-Horodok, a partisan group made almost daily “visits” to David-Horodok, causing much damage to the Germans and many headaches for the Horodtchukas. The partisans burned down almost all the Jewish houses in town so that the Horodtchukas would not benefit from Jewish possessions. They blew up the town’s power station. From time to time they raided the town, killing both Germans and Horodtchukas. They kept the town under tension through the entire period.
In this partisan group there was a Jewish girl (whose name and fate are unfortunately not known) who was distinguished by her extraordinary courage and daring. In every partisan raid she was always the first to go in and the last to withdraw. With her heroic deeds she threw terror into the Germans and the Horodtchukas, and at the same time gave courage to her partisan comrades.
David-Horodok’s “abandoned” homes were taken possession of by their new owners, but not for long. For later, when large partisan bands began operating in the vicinity, they assaulted the town a few times and burned most of the Jewish houses.
We found ourselves in the vicinity of the village Kripna, not far from Pinsk in thick forests. We had been prepared for many days to move to another spot but meanwhile we had not moved. Where were we moving and, most important, what were we waiting for? This was apparently the commander’s secret.
Our woman officer, for whom I was the driver, told me the deepest secret—that we were waiting for an airplane coming here from Moscow with important people. They should have been here four days ago, and no one knew why they were late.
What had happened? Had they meet with some misfortune? A few hours after the lady officer told me this story, our detachment began to move out. We traveled the entire night, and by day we remained in a large thick forest containing deep mud. This was our provisional headquarters and residence.
We received the order to set up cabins, and although it was already late autumn (a month after Succos, 1943), we were not allowed to light a fire. The officer, husband of the lady officer, came to our wagon with her child and told us that the parachutists had finally arrived, but they had met with misfortune. Three of them died on their way to join the detachment. A peasant from the village of Tereblichi had betrayed them.
The forest in which our detachment now stood was near the large village of Karatzke-Valya. The population of the village was friendly to the partisans, and headquarters gave permission to light fires during the day for cooking and baking. That same day there was an assembly, and the commander of the detachment, Colonel Satanovski, gave the partisans and refugees instructions concerning their behavior. The chief directive was that, with the exception of those partisans who were sent on terrorist actions against the Germans, no one was to leave the area. Whoever disobeyed the command would be shot on the spot, without a trial.
After finishing these instructions, he turned to the assembly: “Comrades, whoever comes from or is familiar with the region of David-Horodok, Stolin and Turov, let him report to me in my headquarters after the assembly.” I went into staff headquarters and reported to the commander that I knew David-Horodok very well, as well as a little of the vicinity.
“Tell me Comrade Hochman, do you know where the villages of Ozdanichi, Tereblichi and Korotichi are located?”
“Yes,” I answered. He asked me to stand aside, and he interrogated the second partisan who had entered headquarters right after me.
“Where do you come from, comrade?”
“From the village Bukcha,” answered the partisan. “It is far [to the east] from David-Horodok, but we peasants often went there, and that is why I know the region.”
“Why did you join our detachment?” The commander continued his line of questioning.
“Because I want to fight the Germans,” was the partisan’s answer.
“Listen, comrade!” said the commander as he turned to the partisan. “Perhaps there is a Jew in our detachment who knows you?”
“Not in our detachment,” replied the partisan. “But there are Jews in Fyodorov’s detachment nearby who know me from home. Ask them about me.”
Quickly contact was made with Fyodorov’s detachment, and the answer came back that the partisan was a fine upstanding man and that there was no danger of his being a traitor.
After a brief interval, 10 young men came into the commander’s headquarters. They were strong, jovial partisans. Later German battle uniforms were brought in. All the partisans, except for me, took off their partisan clothes and donned the sparkling new German battle uniforms. They didn’t even forget to put crosses on their necks. One of the partisans put on the uniform of a German officer. He was one of the ten who had come from Moscow and he had perfect command of the German language.
All the weapons—rifles, machine guns, and grenades—with which these “Germans” were armed, were German-made. Even the cigarettes were German. I dressed up in traditional Jewish clothes, concealing a revolver and several hand grenades. The “German officer” gave me the following instructions:
“In case we encounter Germans or police along the way, we will say that we caught you hiding out in the forest. We will tell them that after we beat you up (signs of the beating were immediately provided. They cut one of my fingers and smeared the blood on my face and hair), you agreed to take us to the place where many other Jews are hidden.”
The commander ordered us not to leave headquarters and not to show ourselves to anyone. Halfway through the night, we were ready for our journey. The “German officer” turned to us with the following words:
“Comrade partisans! A short time ago we boarded an airplane in Moscow to come and join your partisan detachment. Along with the pilot we were thirteen men.
“Near the Pripyat River not far from Mikashevitchi, we were chased and shot at by German airplanes. When our plane was set on fire, we jumped out with our parachutes. Luckily we all landed safely near the village of Tereblichi. After we searched and found each other, we went into a peasant’s hut in the village and asked him the way to the hamlet of Mairlin. The peasant showed us the way, assuring us that there were no Germans or police in the entire region. It turned out that while we were checking the route on our map, the peasant was informing on us. We started along the road, thanking and blessing the peasant and his family.
“In half an hour we were accosted by men who called out, ‘Halt; put your hands up!’ They began to shoot at us; three of our comrades were killed on the spot. We immediately opened fire and heard the screaming and groaning from the wounded on their side.
“With that, the clash ended in the small forest. Crawling on all fours, we tried to reach a different large forest. Along the way we stumbled on a man who was choking with pain caused by our bullets. He was wounded in both feet. This wounded policeman irately cursed the peasant Karp who had awakened the police from sleep and chased after the partisans along with them.
“We choked the policeman to death,” continued the “German officer,” “and after several days of wandering through swamps and forests, we reached your detachment, exhausted. Now,” proposed the “officer,” “we are going to bring that peasant back here. We must take revenge against such a cowardly dog!”
“In truth there are more important targets for our partisans,” noted the “officer.” “Our entire energy must be concentrated against the accursed Germans, but we are consumed with resentment and anger that one of our own peasants, flesh of our flesh, spilled the blood of his own brothers and betrayed his own people to the German murderers like a servile dog.
“We will bring him back here to the detachment. We will bring him back here dead or alive, that traitor-murderer, so that partisan blood will not be spilled wantonly.”
Following these words of our group leader, we set out on our way. For three nights we wandered through forests, swamps and fields until we arrived at the village of Korotichi. After our “Germans” found out there were only five policemen in the village, we all went into the police station. Our “officer” informed the policemen that his group was specially selected to effect the liquidation of the remaining Jews hiding in the forests. Pointing to me, the “officer” said that this captured Jew would show him the place where many Jews were hiding.
In order to undertake such a holy task, the police said they would have to mobilize the police of Korotichi, Tereblichi, and Ozdanichi. After all the policemen of Korotichi had been mustered together we all went to Tereblichi. In the Tereblichi police station, which was a private house, all the Tereblichi policemen were assembled, including the peasant Karp. Two policemen were dispatched by the “officer” to Ozdanichi, with orders to return with that village’s police.
The “officer” talked Russian among the policemen, and he scolded them for their lack of vigilance. “It appears,” he roared with a thundering voice, “ that within 6 or 7 miles from your posts, there are many Jews still hidden. How is it possible? No small thing, so many Jews!”
Concluding his conversation with the police, he turned to his “German” comrades and talked to them in the German language. The “Germans” answered him from time to time with a “yes,” “good,” “all in order”—they didn’t know any other German words.
The policemen began to reply, saying it was not their fault that there were still a few living Jews hidden here or there. Each one of them had done his utmost to exterminate the hated Jews. They hadn’t rested day or night, searching in every corner, catching women, children and men, murdering all without mercy.
Then they described a litany of gruesome acts which each one had performed. Each story was more horrible and appalling than the last. In such manner, listening to these vile tales of murder, we passed the time. The night was dark and cloudy but it was coming to an end.
We partisans shivered; the ground was burning under our feet. We were anxious to get back into the forest before they found out that we were partisans. Everyone held his weapon very tightly in his hand. Everyone was restless and impatient.
Only the “officer,” the oldest of the group, was calm and in no hurry. He alone was smoking, and he offered cigarettes, German cigarettes, to all the police. He listened patiently to all of their horror stories, kept company with them, and at the same time, he threw in “innocent” questions: “Well, and what have you been doing about partisans? You eat, drink and sleep, and you don’t catch any partisans. Shame on you!”
The peasant Karp spoke. He told how approximately 10 days previously he delivered a group of partisans into the hands of the police. “Unfortunately,” he said, “there were not enough police, and only three partisans were killed while the others managed to escape into the forest. Four policemen fell in this battle.”
“As for myself,” boasted the peasant Karp, “I barely escaped with my life. I hid in a ditch and laid there until the partisans had left.”
“For this deed of mine,” he explained, “I received a beautiful reward from the town commandant in David-Horodok: two milk cows and much clothing from the dead Jews.”
Outside daylight appeared. The peasant woman was already up and her children were beginning to awaken. The peasant woman took a pot of soup out of the oven and she and the children began to eat. I stretched out my hand to the woman and begged her for a little soup. She poured a full bowl of warm soup and gave it to me.
Just as I began to eat, the eldest of the group, the “German officer,” came over to me, pulled the bowl out of my hands and said, “Did the good woman give this to you? In that case, eat!” Having finished speaking, he poured the entire bowl of soup over my head. The “Germans” and policemen responded to this “heroic” act with shrill laughter. There was indescribable joy and cheer. All were pleased with this “brilliant” incident.
Abruptly we heard the sound of voices outside. The door swung open and the two messengers entered along with the eight policemen from Ozdanichi. The policemen greeted each other joyfully. They shook hands, chatted and eventually told the story of how the “German group leader” had poured the bowl of soup over my head.
I sat in the corner, covered from head to foot with the remains of the flour and potato soup. My face and hands were streaked with blood, and I made myself cry ...
Our group leader, the “officer,” whispered secretive orders to the police commanders and the peasant Karp ....
The peasants of the village, learning that we were going on such a holy mission, to catch Jews, brought us considerable food such as eggs, butter, pork, bread, and a large number of whiskey flasks. The “officer” ordered us to begin our journey.
Each man quickly packed a share of the food into his rucksack and began walking along the road, which led to the right of the woods of the village of Kolki. We went through thick forests of small trees. Along the way the police asked me about the hidden Jews. They were interested to know if there were any rich ones and if there were any young women. They were greatly encouraged and pleased by my answer. I told them that they would find everything there: much money, gold, jewels and especially young beautiful women ...
After marching three hours, our “officer” told us to stop. “We must,” he said, “have a rest and a bite to eat.” All the weapons were stacked together in piles of three. We sat down and began to feast. The police ate and drank whiskey without end, and “out of the goodness of their hearts” they even gave me plenty to eat. Meanwhile the “officer” took out a map and showed the already half-drunk policemen the place where they would find the Jews with their cabins. Naturally this place was very very near...
Encouraged that they were very close to their goal and imagining the “juicy morsel” that awaited them, the policemen again renewed their drinking ... At the end of the repast the policemen laid down to rest on one side and all the “Germans” on the opposite side. The peasant Karp and a completely inebriated policeman were sent to guard me and the weapons... In a few minutes all the police fell into a deep sleep.
The “Germans” quickly awoke from their “sleep;” they took up the loaded guns and in seconds all the policemen were shot to death. Only one person was “spared,” the peasant Karp. He was brought back alive to the detachment in order to hand him over to the parachutists whose three companions were killed through Karp’s treachery. On the tenth day we returned to our detachment. The same day that we returned Karp was hung. Searching his belongings we found a pocket watch with a Hebrew inscription. The inscription read: “In memory of the wedding of Dov Farber.” This watch had been a wedding gift to Beryl Farber from his father-in-law.
The detachment commander Satanovski was happy at our return. He received us joyfully and said that he had had a premonition that our mission would succeed. He said that our group leader, the “officer,” was “one of our best and cleverest sons of Russia. He knows ten languages, including a perfect German. He is an able diplomat and well-qualified for such missions.”
“Yet,” said commander Satanovski, “during the entire ten days that you were away I was restless and could not sleep. Who knows? War is war and anything can happen!”
“Friends,” ended our commander, “you are tired from the strain and from the journey. Each of you gets three days furlough. However I am also giving you the following order: No one is to know where you’ve been or what you’ve done. For disobeying this order you will receive the severest war-time punishment.”
The Polish partisan detachment “Kastiushke,” which numbered about 300 Poles and 8 Jews, was in the vicinity of the large village of Multshitch (about 50 miles from Pinsk), in large thick forests and deep swamps. The detachment had under its protection a camp of relatives consisting of about one hundred Polish families who had fled the slaughters caused by the Ukrainians. There were also a number of Jewish souls in the camp, unfortunate remnants of the tens of thousands of Jews who were cruelly murdered by the Germans, aided by the Ukrainians and Belarusans. I was appointed by the staff to act as driver for the families of the partisan fighters.
The detachment didn’t stay in one place for very long. We often changed locations in the forests. On the eve of Rosh Hoshana 1943, a camp Jew came to the commander of the detachment with a request that the Jews be allowed to hold communal services on the following day in a nearby barn in the forest. The commander was a young, healthy and handsome man who spoke and wrote Polish well, and who had arrived by airplane from Moscow a month earlier with the ten other Polish parachutists.
The commander spoke little and was unusually stern. No one had yet seen a smile on his handsome face. His orders to the partisans as well as to the camp refugees were always brief and curt. He had traitors and informers shot without mercy. We Jews began to notice a good streak in his character as soon as he arrived at the detachment. That is, he ordered that his food and kitchen overseers should not abuse anyone by lessening their food rations, so that the Jewish refugees received just as much as the Polish and Russian refugees.
On the morning of Rosh Hoshana, the commander sent for the Jews who had asked him for permission on the previous day to pray together in congregation. He answered with a smile that had not been seen on his face since his arrival: “If you think that your God will help you as a result of your prayers, then go entreat Him. My god” he said, holding his weapon against his heart, “is my gun and my grenades. The German murders understand that language better and it reaches them faster. Your pleas and prayers reach your God just about as much as they reach the Germans. But pray and entreat your God as much as your hearts desire. I have no right to hinder your religious feelings. Pray as much as you like, but let it be quiet.”
All the Jews except for the Jewish partisans on duty came to pray. There was only one tallis and one mahzor, which a Platnitzer Jew had taken along with him when he fled from the slaughter. He wrapped himself in the tallis and prayed, while the others—the remnant of tens of thousands of Jews who were murdered, slaughtered and buried alive—were choked in tears, pounding their heads against the walls and sobbing in violent spasms.
Human words are too poor to describe these heartrending scenes, when close to thirty unfortunate Jews—men, women and children—desolate, lonely and orphaned, vented their tears and their rage over their great misfortune. Many Polish refugees from the camp and partisans from the detachment gathered around the barn. Many of them cried along with the Jews. Who knows what was oppressing them? Perhaps they were regretting what role they may have had in helping the Germans kill the parents, husbands, wives and children of these Jews that were praying here now.
When the cantor, a good singer with a hearty voice and a pained heart began saying the Hinini ha’oni prayer, the tears literally flooded the barn. At that moment the detachment commander Colonel Satanovski came riding up quickly on his horse. He requested a short intermission in the prayers and, seated on his horse, said the following:
“Comrades! Why are you crying? We are still alive; so what is there to cry about? The Germans are retreating thanks to the severe beatings rendered by the brave Red Army on all fronts. It won’t be long before Russian soldiers will be strolling the streets of Berlin, over the entire accursed German land and over the dead bodies of the German murderers. The day of vengeance is near! However, our partisan situation today is not better, but somewhat worse than before. We must increase our vigilance. The Germans will be hard to displace. We and all the other courageous partisan detachments have destroyed all the bridges and railway lines. The Germans find themselves in a desperate situation. They know that the partisans are now their greatest danger. Therefore they have dispatched special divisions to destroy us. Also from the west, from Germany, they have sent out German divisions to help. We are in the middle. However all the roads are blocked. For the time being they cannot get to us. Every night large Russian partisan groups are dropped off by airplane. They are mining the roads in the path of the retreating Germans. The Germans are being torn to pieces in the fields and in the forests. As long as we don’t fight them in open battle—the brave Russian Army is doing that with great success—we can avoid great casualties. Whether all of us who are here will survive is hard to know. Perhaps we can hope.
“The Germans have burned down everything from Pinsk to Zitomir and Mozyr. We have a directive from the highest command in Moscow to destroy without mercy all German followers and traitors. In my refugee camp we uncovered an entire family of German spies. Over ten of my dear partisan lads were killed because of them. Tonight the entire family of eight will be hung. Although only the daughter was actually guilty, the entire cowardly family knew about her treachery. Let us hope that we will endure all hardships. Long live the Red Army!”
After finishing his speech, the commander turned to the cantor wrapped in his tallis and said the following: “Listen now, continue your prayers. Say what you were saying before I came into the barn.” The cantor covered his head with his old shredded tallis, leaned his thin dried hands against the eastern wall of the barn, and began tearfully to intone the words of the Hinini ha’oni.
The commander got off his horse, smoked a cigarette, leaned his left shoulder against his horse, looked the entire time in the direction of the forest, and with quiet attention listened to the sad tearful melody. I noticed that tears were in his eyes.
The war was over. I returned to my hometown and encountered destruction and a huge mass grave. All was lost. I was sent to Ravne where there was a job opportunity.
In the administrative office of the town commandant, I met a man dressed in a handsome black suit with carefully combed hair. He was conversing with the commandant. I could not take my eye off him. I had seen that man somewhere before and couldn’t remember where. The man noticed that I was looking at him with special interest, and abruptly asked me, “Don’t you recognize me, comrade?”
“Well my friend,” he said, “if you don't remember it doesn’t matter. It is not necessary my friend. Everything evil must belong to the past, to history.”
When he left the administrative office the town commandant of Ravne asked me, “Citizen Hochman, were you in his Polish detachment called Kastiushke during the war?”
I didn’t let him go any further. “Yes, yes, that’s right! He is the commander of my detachment, the Polish Colonel Satanovski.”
“No, no,” interrupted the Ravne town commandant, “no, not the Pole Satanovski but the courageous hero of the Soviet Union, organizer of all the Polish partisan units on Soviet soil, who is now decorated with all the highest medals by comrade Stalin himself and who is now a frequent guest, along with all the other distinguished personalities, in the Kremlin—a colonel and heroic partisan, the Jew Moshe Satanovski.”
Miriam Bragman’s account of how she and the other women were driven from David-Horodok is told in Section VI.
At the beginning I worked for several months in the medicine section, accompanying the wounded in wagons and nursing them. Later when I had proven myself courageous and bold, I was assigned to the information service. My job was to go into the villages, find out the number of German soldiers in each place, how many weapons they possessed and where their commander was located. When I brought back the accurate information, the partisans would attack each place and destroy it.
The airplanes would come at night, and we would light fires to guide them in their landing. Once an enemy airplane circled overhead. Thinking it was one of ours we lit the fires. The airplane veered off and headed towards Kiev. A few hours later it returned and gave us a “present” of bombs.
In one of our raids we overran the village of Amiltshana near Zitomir. The retreating Germans were convinced they were opposing soldiers of the Red Army. While we held the village we ate and drank ceaselessly. We followed the system of “take from this one and give to the next one.” We would take from one person and then repay him with what we took from the next person.
One of my jobs was observation. Once while I was sitting at my post I didn’t notice that our people had left the area, and the Germans were coming up. However I wasn’t abandoned. A horse and rider were sent to retrieve me, and we succeeded in escaping in the last minute before the Germans marched in. This was only one of the many miracles that happened to me.
After we had extricated ourselves from Amiltshana, I was again assigned as an observer. About a mile away from me, deep in the forest, our people were stationed with a cannon. I was to warn them when the enemy approached. To lose a cannon was for us a far greater tragedy than to lose one of our people, and I was no exception. Suddenly I heard the sound of horses’ hooves.
“Halt,” I shouted. “Who’s there?” And I whispered the password. My situation was intolerable. For whoever did not carry out his duty, even when guiltless, the penalty was death. With my luck they were our men. In recognition I was given a medal.
One night we were riding our horses near a train station. We watched over our horses as if they were our own eyes because they were our most important means of communication. We handled them properly, as best we could. When we saw that their strength was exhausted, we would confiscate fresher and stronger horses along the way.
At crossroads we would separate and ride in various directions back and forth in order to confuse the enemy. At the time we passed the train station I became separated from my unit in order to change my horse. When I returned no one was there. Indeed I had acquired a fresh horse and had a gun, but I was alone. I wandered for a week without seeing a single soul. I was so weary that the gun became too much of a burden for me and I parted with it as a “friend.” On the eighth day I came to a village. I entered a cabin and asked the residents if they had seen horses and riders in the vicinity.
“Yes, yes! I saw them,” answered the man of the house. “Sit awhile. Relax. I’ll come right back.” I decided that he was a village official, and I used the moment of his departure to get out of there. I left my horse and all my belongings. Later I went into several houses and ordered the residents to give me food and do me no harm if they didn’t want to deal with the partisans who were coming after me.
At last I went into a small house and again asked if they had seen horses and riders in the region. After I had promised a proper reward, the resident went with me to show the way. On the tenth day of my wandering, I was re-united with my people.
Once we were surrounded by the Germans, and they shot at us from all sides. Our situation was hopeless, and we began to say farewell to each other. A portion of us succeeded in breaking through the enemy’s line and escaped, leaving the wounded behind. We were soon given the order to turn back and rescue the wounded. Many fell in the renewed skirmish. Many of our people also died at Brod, especially a number of Jews from Dubrovitsa.
The enemy had a widespread espionage network. Not infrequently we would arrive at a certain place and come under attack by enemy airplanes. We would always withdraw in the direction taken by the enemy airplanes.
In Lemberg [Rus: Lvov] we came in contact with the Red Army. I was appointed head nurse for a transport of wounded and typhus victims to the rear area. A number of them were lying on the ground. I fulfilled this function for the Red Army for one week. That same week we dug a grave for a partisan who had survived many battles but died in an accident. I said a short eulogy over his grave. After that I resolved to leave the partisans and do something for myself. At the time we captured Amiltshana, I became a close friend of one of the village girls. Now that the region had been cleared of the enemy, I came to her house. We were joined by several wagoners and young people who were going the same way. My girlfriend’s house had remained intact, and her family unharmed. I was there scarcely a month when I began working in the office of a large sawmill. I had to change my residence, but I returned each Sunday to spend time with my companions.
So I spent several months until I heard the news that Pinsk had been liberated. I decided to return home. I procured a passport and traveled to Sarne. I wanted to continue on my way to David-Horodok but I met friends in Sarne who wouldn’t let me go because “there is not even the memory of a Jew there.” Reluctantly I remained in Sarne and took up the offer to work as a clerk for the commissar of the military stationed in Sarne. The NKVD also offered me a job, which I refused. A short time later when I was ordered to the front with my military unit, I decided to remain with the NKVD.
I was awarded the rank of an officer and quartered next to the residence of the commissar. Before I started working, I was given the longest detailed questionnaire I had ever seen. I kept that job for several months. During that period there were still marauding bands, who pillaged and staged pogroms. The NKVD uniform protected me. I was also saved by the fact that I often appeared together with the commissar, just the two of us, and each such appearance had a powerful impression on everyone, especially those who planned to harm me.
My closeness to the public prosecutor also enabled me to arrest several gentiles who I recognized as murderers of Jews. On a certain day, I decided travel to Amiltshana for a farewell visit. Since I could not afford to travel on my salary, I was forced to sell paper at a high price to cover my travel expenses. However I was caught and arrested. An NKVD employee who was arrested for a similar crime was punished by taking twenty-five percent off his wages until he had completed his obligation. I was freed after much effort, and a report was sent concerning me to Sarne. When I returned to Sarne I again enjoyed the commissar’s trust, and he never deducted a groshen from my wages.
The transports of supplies and troops all passed through Sarne, which also served as a military camp. When a troop train would stop, I would put two or three bottles of whiskey in my rucksack and go to the station to trade with the soldiers for clothing, which was plentiful on the trains. Once I came there and the railroad NKVD policemen surrounded the train and started a search. Before they searched me, I succeeded in getting rid of the whiskey. When they brought me to my commissar I feigned ignorance, saying that I was there as a NKVD officer.
A half-month later I requested a release from the NKVD and an emigration permit. My commissar reminded me of my arrest. Nevertheless he sent me with a letter, whose contents I do not know to this day, to the commissar of Ravne. The guards would not let me see him, and they tried to get rid of me with various excuses. I would not be put off and I went in.
He read the letter and sent me back with another sealed letter whose contents were also unknown to me. I gave the letter to the commissar of Sarne and all the obstacles in my path were set aside. I drove to freedom.
 Vakar, Nathan P., Belorussia, pp. 191-206
and the Small Print
Updated 20 Oct 2000