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A TREK FROM HELL

Many of us watched the documentary “Kiselyov’s List” (Moscow) by the film director Yuri Malyugin and producer Yakov Kaller. It tells the story of an arduous trek from the occupation territory by a group of Jews from the Vilna district. Former ghetto prisoners met with the participants of that memorable trek in Haifa. The film producer Yakov Kaller had sent his address before the meeting.

“Thank you very much for supporting our film and your wish to bring it to the attention of the viewers in the city of Haifa. The character of political instructor Kiselev, who is more often called as Russian Schindler, is very dear to my colleagues and me. Due to a number of urgent matters, I won’t be able to take part in the meeting “Saving trek” that you organized. I sincerely wish you good health and success in your noble work on preserving the memory of the most terrible war in the human history, and of those who gave their lives in the name of the Great Victory.”

Told by the participants of the meeting:

Leon Rubin:

In late June 1941, the Germans occupied the Dolginovo village, Minsk region, with the Jewish population of about five thousand. They were forced to build a fence, and later were herded behind it. On April 1, 1942, SD detachment from Vileyka surrounded the ghetto at night, killing the running people during the raid. Only experts were left alive, the others were taken to a barn and shot. The dead bodies were burned. It didn’t take long for the following actions to begin. The Nazis carried them out on April 29 and April 30. There are no words to describe the horror of those days. Girls were poured over with kerosene and set on fire, children were killed in front of their parents.

...The Jews tried to escape the massacre. They were hiding in bunkers, sometimes constructing three storeys of plank beds there. The Germans, having found the hiding place, threw grenades. After the war, non-commissioned officer of the Sonderkommando Franz Hess testified at the trial about the elimination of 2200 in one of the massacres of Jews in Dolginovo, Ilia, Knyazhentsy and other villages.

- Still, part of the condemned managed to escape into the woods, joining the partisans, some people were hiding in villages, - says Leon Rubin. - After the last massacre in Dolginovo there were two people who survived - Haimka Grosbeyn and me. I was 6 years old, he was a year younger. Our hiding place could find neither policemen nor Germans. My parents and my brother were hiding in a different village, my elder brother and sister found shelter on their own. If we had been hiding together, we would have been found sooner. We met later in the forest.

...They were over 300 people from nearby places. But they got to be a burden for the partisans depriving them of the possibility of maneuvering and attacking the enemy. It got difficult with provisions. An order came to take the people to the mainland. The prisoners were led by Nikolay Kiselyov, commander of the partisan unit “Victory”. There were 270-280 people in the group who had to cover some 1,200-1,500 kilometers. They went through the woods, bypassing, winding, avoiding encounters with the Germans. Their trek began in August.

Leon Rubin:

- There were 35 children among us. Can you imagine what it means to pass over 30-40 km over one night? Still, once we were surrounded by the Nazis. We scatted in all directions. When it settled, everyone came to the original location, but about fifty people were missing, the Germans killed them.

Miriam Deutsch-Holtz, one of the 218 survivors, shared her reminiscences. In 1942, she was six and a half.

- I saw the events of those years through the eyes of a child. On the other hand, we, the children, grew up in a blink. But it was only later, when I became a mother myself, that I realized how my parents, my grandmother had worried about us. The file of people started its way when the light began to fail. Then they fell on the ground exhausted. On the first day of the trek the people stopped in a clearing in a birch grove. At dawn the gunfire began. Someone told the Nazis about the place of our halt. I fell, people jumped over me. I was lying and watching the Germans around. For some reason my back was wet. I touched and saw the blood. I jumped up, caught up with my grandmother and told her in Yiddish: “Grandma, I’m killed.” I had five small wounds from the mine fragments on the back. I was unable to walk further myself and my grandparents carried me by turn.

There was a small, two-year-old girl named Berta Kramer. She cried very often. The adults were afraid that her weeping would disclose their position to the enemy. The parents could do nothing about it. They were told either to go away or get rid of the girl. Our savior, Nikolay Kiselev, came up and, learning what had happened, took the small girl in his arms, calmed her down and carried her on his shoulders for a long time. Now Berta lives in the USA, she has two children, five grandchildren.

...They overcame all severities, with the most difficult crossings through water obstacles. In the area of the city Stariy Toropets the people came to the friendlies. When between the Germans and the Red Army, they were caught in the crossfire. Still, when they came to the friendlies, they had to walk to the station Bologoe. From there they went to Kazakhstan.

After the war, Miriam Deutsch-Holtz went to Poland, graduated from the Medical Academy. She moved to Israel in 1960, worked as a doctor.

I called another participant of the trek, Haim Grosbeyn, and asked about his life. He was wounded on the way, when the German attacked the group’s camp.

Haim, currently a resident of Petah Tikva, told me his story:

- I was four in 1941. Although I was little, I will remember the events of those years up to the last minute of my life. I couldn’t understand what was happening, what was going on, when we were occupied by the Germans. Suddenly, they began killing people, and the Germans were walking quietly, laughing. It was so weird.

The Jews began digging ditches and hiding there. And our family built a cellar in the house. We made holes in the foundation so that we could breathe. Then we got in the ghetto. Many people were taken to work for the Polish gentry. On the way my father was killed.

Aunt Dvosya told me: “If you hear gunfire, hide under the Russian oven.” I did what she had told me, but the stove-maker disclosed me to the Germans.

I remained in the ghetto with my cousin, who was five years older than me. She covered her eyes with a scarf not to see the shooting. There was increasing din and shouting around. At that moment we were hiding in the straw. When it settled, we went out. There was dead silence, as if it was a different world. We were picked up by a woman and were wandering until we came upon the partisans. There was Aunt Dvosya.

We were taken through the woods. At one of the rest halts the Nazis attacked us. We rushed to all directions, but I was shot in the left leg. Dvosya took off her kerchief, bandaged the wound and carried me. Late in the evening we all gathered. I fell asleep at some tree. When I woke up, there was nobody around, I began weeping. It turned out, as I found out it after the war, that people said to my aunt that I would be a burden to the whole group and they wouldn’t manage to go further, and I had to be left.

I ran, hoping to find the rest of the group. I was totally worn out and sat down under a tree, I was dying. For the first time in my life I was alone. I began wandering. I ate everything that I could find on the way: mushrooms, birds' eggs, live fish. I picked up fallen seeds, went to villages. Sometimes the villagers gave me some bread, a glass of milk, but it also happened that they let loose the dogs. I got into sheds, waiting for the pigs to be fed with boiled peelings and bran. I ate the pig-swill. Sometimes I got caught by housewives who took me for evil spirit. I lived in that way for about two years.

I was found by partisans in the woods. They took me to the medical unit. The wound on my leg festered. Dr. Kotlyar operated on my leg without anesthesia.

My parents, brother Shmuil, other relatives were killed in Dolginovo. Nobody believed I was still alive. In 1961, I went to Israel through Poland.

...The main hero of the trek was Nikolay Kiselev, but SMERSH considered him a runaway and arrested. The Jews stood up for their savior.

...Nikolay was born in Bashkiria. He was taken prisoner in Belarus, but escaped. He joined the underground group in the village of Ilia, Minsk region, then went to the partisans. Nikolay took the civilians across the front line. In Israel, he was awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations. The village Dolginovo has a street named in honour of the partisan. The residents of Dolginovo compared Nikolay Kiselev with Moses who led the Jews from Egypt. Russia, in the name of which the brave partisan acted, expressed no interest to this fact.

...The film “Kiselyov’s List”, the story of an arduous trek by the Jews, received 17 prestigious awards. There were a lot of good reviews about the trek and the film. I’m citing two of them. The famous film director Tatiana Lioznova: “I haven’t cried watching TV for six years. You (she addressed the producer Yakov Kaller) made me cry.” The President of the Russian Guild of Film Critics Victor Matisen: “Each of 218 Jews in “Kiselyov’s List” can be said about in the same way as the Florentines said about Dante: “He was in hell and came out of it.”

David Fabrikant

Еврейское местечко под Минском


Jewish settlements in Minsk region

MinskBerezinoBobrBorisov DolginovoDukoraDzerzhinsk Ivenets Myadel NesvizhObchuga Pogost Rakov Seliba Slutsk Svir Uhvaly Vileika

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