In the Inferno: the Dead Loop concentration camp By Svetlana Kogan-Rabinovich, Translated from Russian by Irina Sadovina
About author and her family
Svetlana Ilyinichna Kogan-Rabinovich was born in 1927 in the town of Tulchin, in Ukraine’s Vinnitsa region. Svetlana’s mother, Mariya Izrailevna Vaisleib, the second eldest in a family of three brothers and four sisters, came from a well-known family of Breslov Hasidic rabbis. Mariya’s grandfather, Zvi-Gersh Vaisleib, who was born in Tulchin, was the author of commentaries on the works of the great Rabbi Akiva.
Svetlana’s great-grandfather, like other Breslov Hasidim, preached education through labour. In 1881, after sending his twin sons, Azril and Naftali, to a relative in Kishinev, her great-grandfather moved to British Mandate Palestine, which, at the time, was controlled by the Turks. There, he shared in the difficult labor of the first settlers in one of the first kibbutzim. In Kishinev, Azril and Naftali mastered the shoe-making craft and returned to Tulchin. When Svetlana’s future grandfather Azril turned eighteen, he was conscripted into the Tsar’s army. He married his niece and took her with him. In Belarus, they had a son, Nachman, named after the famous Hasidic tzaddik Rabbi Nachman of Bratislava. Svetlana’s grandmother came from the Barsky family, who descended from Rabbi Nachman. In the army, her grandfather observed Jewish traditions strictly, ate only kosher food and did not trim his beard. He would get punished for disobedience, but once the higher authorities understood the situation, they accommodated him. He would receive packed lunches and was moved to a shoe making workshop. Upon returning from the army, he opened a shoe making workshop and a school for children of religious Hasidic Jews in Gaisin. He taught children the tanning craft, along with the Torah and the Jewish tradition. From some Jews who immigrated to America, he bought a large two-storied house with columns and a balcony, where a sukkah hut would be constructed during Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. This house stands there to this day. Hasidic Jews readily brought their sons to him for education. He also took in and educated refugee boys. There were many such orphans in Ukraine after World War I. In 1907, Svetlana’s great-grandfather Zvi-Gersh came from Palestine to visit his relatives. He invited them to come back with him. The relatives, for their part, tried to convince him to stay in Ukraine, but Zvi-Gersh yearned to go back to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. One day, he went outside and did not come back. The family searched for him. A few days later, a cab driver came by to inform them that he had given Zvi-Gersh a lift to the nearest narrow-gauge railway. He had gone back to Palestine, where he died three years later. The family stayed behind and had to live through the pogroms at the hands of Petliura’s army and Grigoriev’s gangs during the Civil War, and they would later die as victims of the Nazi occupation. In this argument, great-grandfather Zvi-Gersh turned out to be right.
During the years of the New Economic Policy (NEP), business-minded people were exposed as capitalists and their property was seized. Svetlana’s grandfather was frequently arrested, and bail payments were demanded. He fled to the city of Rostov-on-Don, and his brother Naftali moved there as well. Her grandfather’s spacious house was expropriated and Svetlana and her mother were forced to move out. When the NEP campaign was over, her grandfather returned to Gaisin. He worked as a shamash (a beadle) in a synagogue, and he built a small house. He was widely respected, not just by the Jewish community, but by Russian neighbours, as well.
My father, Idel (Yutka) Peisakhovich Rabinovich, was born near Kiev. He was the nephew of the well-known writer Sholem Aleichem (the pen name of Solomon Nachumovich Rabinovich). Father worked in the publishing house of the newspaper Chervona Tulchyinschina. He also knew the bookbinding craft. He had his own printing presses, which he received from Zeidel Spektor, a publisher who, in his time, used to print Hasidic religious works and the works of his friend Sholem Aleichem. During the Civil War, my father served in the army. At the Vapniarka station, Petliura soldiers herded Jews into a shed surrounded by barbed wire. Father tried to save them. Because of this, Petliura soldiers pierced his chest with a sword. He was found, and Mother nursed him to health. He suffered from bronchial asthma for the rest of his life.
When the war began, I was at home with Father. Mother was away visiting relatives. I was thirteen. Bombings started on the very first night. As the Germans bombed the nearby Vapniarka station, Father was called into the printing office. When he was leaving, he told me not to go out of the house and, in case anything happened, to remember everything my parents had taught me. The windows were ringing from exploding shells. I was afraid. I lay face down under the big dining table and cried all night. In the morning, Father came back. Following orders, we covered the windows with strips of paper, so that pieces of glass didn’t fly in all directions. The Red Army was retreating. Before the Germans’ arrival, locals started looting shops and Jewish homes. They hauled things and food away in sacks. We were afraid to leave the house and witness this. Roads were crowded with refugees. Few people manage to evacuate in time; we had believed the propaganda that said the war would only last a month or two. Nobody among us thought that the Germans would reach us so fast, and we didn’t know what they were capable of. Many could not abandon their sick elders. We tried to send a pregnant relative out of the city, but the trains were crammed. People were suffocating from the overcrowding. So she came back home. We later learned that airplanes bombed the refugee train. Tulchin had no railroad. People evacuated on horse-drawn carts, with the elderly and women with children walking behind them, through Gaisin, about fifty kilometers away, toward the city of Uman. Hasidic Jews were walking behind them to pray on the grave of the Breslov Rebbe (Rabbi Nachman of Bratislava). During the bombings, people would scatter out into the forest. The horses were exhausted and hungry — there was no time to let them graze, and peasants didn’t give them fodder.
The Germans, with their cars and motorcycles, moved very quickly. After we arrived in Gaisin, we soon heard German speech. Hasidic Jews prayed in Grandfather’s house as a vegetable processing plant was being bombed nearby. The front line was moving closer to Gaisin. Fighting broke out and lasted forty-eight hours. The Germans forced both the locals and refugees to clean the roads and to drag horse carcasses into the trenches that our retreating army had dug. Many who worked on clearing the roads never returned home. Those who dragged horse carcasses into the ditches were forced to climb inside, where they were shot and covered with soil. Across from the printing shop, the Germans hanged the shoemaker Yavorsky on an electric pole. Everyone regretted not having evacuated to the city. We tried to keep together. One day, when I walked outside with a teapot, wanting to get some water from the river, a German caught me and sent me to work. I washed motorcycle wheels and I was ordered to show up to work the next day. My parents had been worried, thinking I was no longer alive. In the evening, they decided to hide me in Grandfather’s cellar. The punishment for failing to show up at work was being shot. When the Germans arrived to our house, our hunchbacked neighbor Shlima got frightened and pointed out where I was hiding. A German dragged me from the cellar by my braid. Mother ran after him and begged him to take her to work instead of me, but the German drove her away. And me, he beat with a ramrod. Everyone who hadn’t come out to work was brought to the trenches by the bathhouse to be shot. Armed Germans and Ukrainian Polizei, the auxiliary police, were already standing there. I knew one of them; he used to work as a street sweeper. They made us stand in a row before the trenches. As we were waiting for the shot, we suddenly saw a tall, skinny red-haired German running toward us without his field tunic, waving his arm. He asked if anyone knew how to mend socks. Along with seven other people, I raised my hand. We were taken away. The others were shot. We were taken to a bathhouse that my grandfather had built during the Civil War to combat the typhus epidemic. We washed the soldiers’ wool socks. We were ordered to show up again the next day. For several days, we sorted, washed and mended socks. Most of those who mended the socks eventually died later. Soon, an order was posted: “Everyone must remain in the location of their residences and registrations. Those who ran away from home are communists.” My brother Peysakh, who turned eighteen when the war began, was in Tulchin when he was drafted into the army. Mother was with him. Two weeks after the beginning of the war, she walked to Gaisin. My brother, like the majority of his peers born in 1922, died on the front lines.
In September, a ghetto for Jews was created in Tulchin, and we were ordered to move there. With the Hasidic Jews, we went from Gaisin to Tulchin through Ladyzhin. We had to cross the Bug River in a ferry. The ferry was on our side of the river and there was no one on it, so we pulled up the rope ourselves. The air was filled with the smell of burned flesh and hair. Before we left, we walked up to the house of our relative Shlema Morgulis, which stood by the river. The blinds were drawn, but he heard us speaking in Yiddish and came down from the attic. He told us that the Germans had burned down houses in the township, that elderly Jews were dragged by their beards and thrown into the fire alive. His sister, Sara Goihman, came with us to Tulchin. A few days later, she went to the old market and found out that, not wanting to surrender to the Germans alive, Shlema had hanged himself in his attic. Like other young people, his daughters were rounded up to dig holes with spades, and, in those holes, they were buried alive. For several days, the ground was moving over the bodies of suffocating people. One of Morgulis’s daughters was away in Odessa at the time and she remained alive. We found out that there was a mass shooting in Gaisin two weeks after our departure. We were afraid to believe it. Ragged, dirty and hungry, we came to the Tulchin ghetto. Jews from the whole city had been herded into the ghetto. The Germans had moved beyond the Bug, leaving Romanians and Ukrainians in charge. All Jews were supposed to live in horribly crammed conditions on Volodarsky street. There was no water or food. Women were not allowed to leave the ghetto after 8:00 p.m.; men were not allowed to leave the ghetto at all. At the market, Jews were beaten by the Romanians and the local Polizei. We were not fed. We were doomed to die out. We were rounded up to work on dismantling the ruins and debris left after the bombings. My sister and I hauled rocks and we uprooted trees in the forest, loading the logs into boxcars. At the labor exchange, we received 180 grams of bread per day. The Polizei and soldiers guarded us and often beat us with whips — iron rods covered with leather. These beatings, and our constant hunger, often led to suicidal thoughts. Resistance was out of the question. Not only were we constantly guarded by armed soldiers with dogs, but along with their weapons, they also had gas wagons, and later crematoriums and bone-crushing machines. In Gaisin, the Germans had ordered us to wear white armbands with a blue Star of David. Here, in Tulchin, the Romanians ordered us to wear a black circle with a yellow star on our chests. A friend of Father’s, Iona Reznik, a forty-five-year-old Hasidic Jew, lived with us because his house was not included in the ghetto. Before the war, he was a grain and fruit packer. As a packer, he had stored grain and fruit in the house of a disabled woman named Kilyna. I had helped her dig her garden before the war. As a believing Christian, Kilyna had earned Iona’s respect. Her house was full of icons. Iona believed that she could be trusted, so he left his five-year-old daughter, Fira, with her, as well as all of his possessions. This girl had been his only child, late and long awaited. Later, it turned out that he was mistaken.
In the fall of 1941, an order was posted in the ghetto: all of us were to be sent to the Pechora death camp known as the Dead Loop, and if we wanted to stay alive, we needed to pay a ransom (a contribution), according to a list. Everyone tried to get on this list and pay the ransom; there was a long line. People pulled out their gold teeth with pliers. I brought a silver spoon, a gift from Grandmother. Obviously, the authorities were deceiving their victims. Regardless of the list, everyone was sent to the death camp. They just needed to collect valuables. The Ukrainian Polizei, with the help of Romanians and Hungarians, herded us all into the school building. Their leader, Stoyanov, a former middle school teacher and military instructor, was especially zealous. During house searches, he would shoot into the air to signal that there was nobody left in the house. The sick and elderly were carried out on stretchers. Our seventeen-year-old neighbor, Motya Higer, hanged himself. Eighty people committed suicide; they were gathered and buried in the old Jewish cemetery in Tulchin, in two graves, which, to this day, do not have any memorials. We were kept in the school for three days. It was crowded, and we could only stand. We weren’t fed or given water, and we weren’t let out to use the toilet. Finally, we were all led to the bathhouse, but not to wash. They ordered us to undress completely and gave us vaccinations against typhus and other infectious diseases. Then they ordered us to get dressed again and took us back to the school building. We stood there suffocating, thirty to forty people per room. That November, exhausted, we were herded about forty kilometers to the Pechora camp, on foot, through the dirt. Our feet got stuck in the cold clay. Many died along the way. When the mothers who were carrying their children got tired, the Polizei would force them to abandon their small children. They killed those who refused. They tore small children out of their mothers’ hands and stomped them into the dirt. Heartbreaking cries filled the air. Elderly people had to walk, too. A man we knew, Hema Alter-Menashe, was shot before my eyes. We walked all day surrounded by the Polizei and German shepherd dogs. Along the road, some locals gave us something to eat. Old Hasidic Jews who refused to eat non-kosher food collapsed in the dirt from weakness and emaciation, wrapped in their talleisim. They were trampled by the Polizei’s horses. Along the way, the Polizei beat us, whipped us, forced us to walk faster. They gave us nothing to drink. We took wet dirt and licked it, licked our hands wet from the rain. We marched through the village of Torkovo. Late in the evening, those of us who could still move were herded into a big cattle shed. Father and I stood in the cold cattle shed. I pressed myself against him to get warm. He stood wearing a tallit and tefillin and prayed the whole time. He was forty-two or forty-three-years old at the time. At daybreak, they forced us from the shed to the camp, for which they had adapted the estate of Count Potocki, built in the style of a medieval fortress. In the center there stood a castle and a Catholic church, surrounded by a cobblestone wall. The entrance to the camp was through large iron gates, beside which were watchtowers. Across from the gates, the gendarmerie was located. In order to look behind the wall, we would make mounds of dirt and stand on them. The building we stayed in was unheated and cold. Everyone tried to get to the room on the second floor, which was warmer. There were forty people per room. The windows were frozen; condensed vapours would drip from the windows and we lay in the puddles, pressed against each other. The weaker ones died. Men carried the corpses outside and took their clothes in an effort to warm themselves. We weren’t given any food or water in the camp. People were doomed to die. We young ones would try to climb over the fence and secretly go over to the village of Torkovo to exchange people’s remaining valuables. But the guards set up ambushes and took our valuables by force. They also caught messengers or smugglers and shot them. But they themselves sometimes asked us to exchange valuables for tobacco or groceries. A guard once beat me up with a ramrod and the butt of his rifle; I was covered in blood. But hunger would force us to climb over the wall again, overcoming the fear of death by bullets. We would gather rusty cans and try to bring back some water from the Bug River, even though the water was bloody; corpses were floating in it. Some couldn’t bear the humiliations and drowned themselves in the pond. One day, our acquaintance Rabinovich threw himself in the ice-hole in winter. Shargorodsky from Vapniarka dragged him out, but two days later he died anyway. Rabinovich’s wife froze to death in the ravine when she was looking for something to eat.
The village of Torkovo was located eight kilometers from Pechora. We would leave before dawn, in secret. People gave away their rings, watches, boots. Smugglers came and went secretly, so that the Germans wouldn’t see. Peasants from the village didn’t denounce us — they were interested in us bringing our remaining valuables to them. In return, they gave us potato skins and some chaff, husks of grain, that they were preparing to give to the cattle in the morning. In the yard of the camp, men dug a hole and secretly stoked a fire. We would boil acacia leaves; sometimes, we would find some frozen cabbage, chestnuts, nettles, sorrel, salt bush. The most difficult thing was the constant, acute feeling of hunger. We sucked our own blood from our fingers to somewhat satisfy the hunger. Children’s rectums stuck out. Everybody resembled skeletons covered in skin. Emaciated and atrophied people could barely move. Before my own eyes, a woman who had gone mad from hunger gnawed her dead neighbour’s breast off. The Germans laughed and took photos of such occurrences. At some point, a commission that included Doctor Beletsky, a man with a Polish background, and Smetansky, a Ukrainian Polizei, visited the camp. The doctor verified deaths of inmates. The fate of everyone in Pechora was to die from starvation. In the spring of 1942, all those who were weakened from hunger were murdered. The rest were rounded up for work. We were moved to the Rakhny station of Shpik region, about eighty kilometers away, and herded there on foot. Along the way, we were made to kneel in the dirt, surrounded by German shepherd dogs. The commandant would fill out documents and then we would be driven further. When mothers with little ones on their hands found it difficult to walk, their children were taken away and thrown in a pile. We badly wanted to drink. We walked past wells but were not allowed to drink. A guide accompanied our group, a Romanian man called Ion. He mocked us, saying, “It’s not for you Jews that nature created water.” When we arrived in the camp in the village of Rakhny, an announcement was made: “There is no running away from here. Offenders will be hung. Work conscientiously. Reveille at 5:00 a.m.” The guides quickly finished their reports. Then, they finally gave us water. They drove up a water barrel, unbridled the bulls and uncorked the barrel. The water was spilling on the ground. We got on our knees, wet our hands and licked off the water. Men were locked in the horse stables and women were locked in the cellar, where we slept on the straw floor. At dawn, we were rounded up for work. One day we worked in a forest nursery weeding the seedlings. Being inexperienced, I touched the roots of several seedlings. Polizei Tkachuk beat me up until I lost consciousness, swore at me. I lay there in a puddle of blood until lunchtime. My back was black from bruises. I was only fifteen years old and, like all the teenagers there, I was emaciated from hunger. When a cart drove up, they threw me in it and took me to the isolation barracks. There, I was thrown down by the doorstep with other “goners.” I didn’t want to live anymore. Nobody came back from isolation. I was saved by Esther Osipovna Svyatetskaya, who knew my father. Before the war, she had been a dentist. She was thirty-five at the time. She had been moved to the Pechora camp much later than I, from Kapustyany, where there was a sugar factory. Esther had managed to take a bundle of valuables into the camp with her. Once, she lost it and cried. I found that bundle, and that is how we met. Esther begged the police to carry me into the common barracks. She gave me some weak broth, made with mangel beet and cabbage, that I found painful to swallow. She nursed me back to health. We kept together. When strength slowly returned to me, I resolved to escape the camp and I tried to convince Esther to escape with me, but she was hoping for the help of a doctor she knew, Nizvetsky, who lived in Rakhny. Nizvetsky was a classmate of her husband’s, who had been the head doctor of the Obod hospital. In 1941, Nizvetsky was wounded at the front but he had managed to get home. Esther and her husband lived in the hospital and nursed him to health. They hid him in the cellar so he would not have to return to the army. He said that he would never forget that. When local women who worked in the camp handed us our broth through a window, Esther asked them if they knew Doctor Nizvetsky. They replied that half the villagers were called Nizvetsky around there. Esther established contact with the right family and sent them her bundle. They bought her boots, sent her bread. She always shared with me.
On November 8, 1942, both of us were severely beaten. We wouldn’t live much longer if we stayed in the camp, so we both decided that we must escape, even though this would put us in mortal danger. We weren’t usually allowed to go outside, but in the shed where we slept, there was no toilet, only wooden buckets. It was cold out and nobody wanted to take out the buckets of feces. One day, we carried out the buckets. A Romanian guard was sitting there, drunk. We came back and then walked out with the buckets again. It was raining and snowing as we threw the buckets in the hole and started walking toward the river. An icy plank had been thrown across the river, as a bridge. We were afraid we’d fall from it, so we walked across in the freezing water, and that saved us. It was difficult to walk because our legs were swollen. We lay low in the forest. We were followed by dogs, but they lost track of us at the river. We walked through the forest for two days until we reached a small farm. On entering the first house, we realized were out of luck: a Polizei lived there; his uniform’s armband was hanging on a nail. He beat us up and wanted to take us to the Gestapo — there was a reward offered for catching escaped prisoners. Esther pleaded with him, said that I was her daughter. She was kissing the police guard’s boots while he hit her in the face. The police guard’s wife did not want to let him go to the Gestapo because she didn’t want to stay alone with their sick child. The Polizei chased us out into the street. We had no strength to continue our journey. We stopped by a house with a tall fence and knocked. The owner came out and invited us in, let us warm ourselves by the stone oven. His mother was elderly and his son had recently returned from German captivity, and this is why he treated us with compassion. But he said that he couldn’t let us stay, since the villagers often visited him to ask his son whether he had run into their relatives. The owner gave us hot milk to drink and then hid us with the pigs in the pigpen, in the hay. We froze. We were afraid that someone would come and discover us. At dawn, the owner gave us some bread and advised us not to walk on the road and to spend the night in the fields, in a haystack. We sat in a haystack for twenty-four hours. Then we walked to Tomashpol, a journey of approximately one hundred kilometers. We wanted to get to a market and find something to eat. We slipped in there secretly and hid under the counters, managing to gather cabbage leaves and bits of vegetables. From conversations we overheard, we found out that there was a ghetto in Tomashpol, but that many Jews had already been shot. We were looking for a place where we could hide from the cold wind when we saw a dilapidated hut. The house was being picked apart for firewood and we hid on top of a Russian stone oven. At dawn, a man approached us. He was a Ukrainian from Bershad. He said, “Don’t be afraid of me — I won’t turn you in. A Jewish girl from Bukovina, Romania, will come to see you here today. I agreed, in exchange for gold, to help her get to the Bershad ghetto, where she is hoping to find her brother.” The Germans had forced Jews from Romania to Ukraine, transporting them like cattle in freight trains to Mogilev-Podolsky and then to Pechora. In the evening, the girl arrived. We talked in Yiddish. She had been left without relatives; they had all perished in Mogilev-Podolsky. The guide said to Esther, “You look Russian, you’ll come with me through Obodovka to Bershad.” And to me he said, “You look like a Jewess — you’ll stay here.” Esther gave me her last shirt and put a coat on her naked body. Our dresses had torn a long time ago. I had a skirt made from a bag, a little headscarf on my head to hide my long, dark braids. Esther and I said our goodbyes. She went to Obodvka and I was left alone in a dilapidated house. I wailed all night. In the morning, women from the ghetto came by. They had each contributed a little bit of food to bring me. They took me to the ghetto with them. My feet were swollen from hunger and cold. An elderly Jewish man, Zalman Soifer, took off his boots made out of rags and struggled to put them on my feet. He took me to his daughter. The little girl looked like an old nun, even though she was only sixteen years old. People would try to change the appearance of young girls, to hide them from the Polizei. (Forty years later, I found that woman’s daughter, Musya, and then I found her mother, who lived in Siberia.) There was fear of typhus. We heated up water in a kazan, a large cooking pot. We washed ourselves, but had nothing to dry ourselves with so would stand by the stove in the cellar. In the ghetto, they fed me some more, and I went to the village of Rozhniativka to look for work with the peasants. A couple of days later, I read a posting that the sugar factory director was looking for a housekeeper. He was a Russian called Vladimir Iks; his wife was Ukrainian, and they had two little boys and lived with a grandmother. I cleaned the stable, milked the cow, gathered saltbush for the cow and the pig. I had to learn how to do everything but the boys helped me. One day, Mashka the cow didn’t come back from the herd. She had stumbled into a vegetable garden and caused damage. The owners of the garden tied her close to the ground by her horns. I begged the garden’s owner to let the cow go. As I was leading her home, the cow struggled free and dragged me on the ground; her udder was swollen. I dislocated my shoulder and was afraid to go to the hospital, in case it was revealed that I was Jewish. The mistress took her jacket off my shoulders and put me out into the street. I didn’t know where to go, and I cried. It was now 1943, and the Germans began to retreat from the Volga River. Romanian nuns gave me shelter in a hallway for two days. But then they also turned me out, since they were expecting monks from Odessa to visit. I next found work with a Romanian whose surname was Purich. He was from the Dnepropetrovsk region. His wife, Tasya, was afraid of him, and they had two children. The master would send me out at night to steal coal; Romanian guards beat me up for that once. I would go see the master at the sugar factory where he worked, carry out some sugar, syrup and motor oil bit by bit, and sell it at the market, giving the money to the master. When he got drunk, he would shout that Jews in the Gulag knocked one of his teeth out and that he would kill me if he found out that I was a Jewess. One day when he was drunk, he got robbed and showed up at home naked. That night, he sent me out to look for his watch. One day during a downpour I met a Jewish girl, a fellow countrywoman, in a partition between houses. She said that she and her little sister were alone. They had had nowhere to live and nothing to eat. A legless beggar now gave them shelter in his den. He said that he would feed them if she slept with him. In order to survive and save her little sister, she agreed. From her, I learned that my parents had perished. She told me that my mother had escaped from the camp and had gone searching for me. In the woods, she had run into the people from the camp who disposed of corpses. A guard beat her up; her blood stained his coat. He ordered her to be thrown onto the pile of corpses and he kept beating her even more viciously. This is how my mother died. My father died a few days later after learning about her death. His sick heart couldn’t stand the stress. I decided to secretly find my way into the Potocki castle, where the Pechora camp was still located. I wouldn’t give up the thought of finding some of my surviving relatives and I needed to confirm my loved ones’ deaths for myself. My wanderings lasted eight months. I slept in empty houses. In late 1943, I met two emaciated Jewish children in the forest — a girl, Riva, and her younger brother, Zeidel, who had miraculously escaped a mass grave. The Germans would lead people to a ditch and shoot whole families. The bullets flew above the children’s heads. Although they were pushed into a common pit, the girl managed to crawl out from underneath the corpses and pull out her wounded little brother. They also had a little sister. She was also wounded and covered with corpses. She was still alive and asked them to save her, but the children didn’t manage to drag her out. Riva and Zeidel had lived in Kotovsk, near Odessa. They had been walking from the outskirts of Odessa, hiding from people, and had walked to Tomashpol through the forest. After the war, I met Riva again. She told me that her brother made his way to the front as a volunteer and perished. All that was left from him was a letter with a poem. But Riva herself did not live long either. She fell ill, lost her mind and died. Eventually, I reached the Pechora camp. I hid there in an attic, dismantled the tiles on the roof and watched the troops moving. There were very few people left in the camp. Everybody had died from hunger or from the beatings. I made my way into the village, carried water for the peasants, helped take care of animals, earned my living. Peasants had been rounded up to dig a ravine for a grave. They said that this grave was for us, the ones who still remained alive.
In the spring of 1944, Soviet troops entered the city. The Germans retreated in a hurry and didn’t have time to destroy the remaining prisoners of the Pechora camp. The first person to enter the camp was a colonel, a Jew. We couldn’t believe that we were being liberated and were afraid to walk out. Many couldn’t walk at all. After the liberation, in the hopes of finding some of my loved ones, I went to a village near Tulchin. I wanted to take Iona Reznik’s daughter, Fira, from Kilyna, who could barely walk. But an angry neighbor told me that Kilyna had murdered the girl with an axe and now the water in the well was spoiled. She told me that one morning the peasants saw blood in the well. They followed the drops of blood and came to Kilyna, the “Believer.” She had cut the five-year-old girl into pieces, put the pieces in a sack and thrown it into the well. Almost all the members of my extended family perished. My grandfather Azril had lived in Gaisin until 1941, when the Germans entered Ukraine. Both Grandfather and Grandmother were shot. My uncle Naftali was killed in Rostov-on-Don. He was a deeply religious person. He lived on the second floor of a house, sharing a hallway with a Baptist woman. During the bombings, they would go down to the cellar. He gave his valuables to a street sweeper, hoping that he would save him. When the Germans came, Uncle Naftali wouldn’t take off his tallit and prayed the whole time. After the war, his neighbour said that when the gas wagon drove up to the house, the street sweeper pointed to the old man’s room. Uncle Naftali entered the gas wagon wearing his tallit and tefillin while a German was beating him. The Germans found the street sweeper two days later. He had choked on his own tongue while drunk. My sister, who was a year and a half older than I, died in the Pechora camp. Zvi-Gersh, Naftali’s son, was shot. Zvi-Gersh’s pregnant daughter was stabbed with a bayonet and his son, an eighth grader, was raised up on bayonets for singing the Soviet anthem the “Internationale”. The other son of Naftali’s, Grisha, was drafted in the Rostov recruitment office. He was captured near Gaisin. He had a good voice, and before the war, he used to do vinyl recordings. He was set on fire in a horse shed with other prisoners of war. Grisha managed to escape and, badly burned, reached Gaisin on foot, where a ghetto had also been created. He pretended to be the son of my grandfather Azril, that is to say, a local. Russian neighbors helped him. He started working as a pattern maker at a shoe shop. My uncle Grisha Vaisleib hoped to find his relatives, but this was already after the mass shooting, and not one was left alive. People who had known his relatives helped treat his burns and gave him a change of clothes. He registered a woman named Frida Strizhevsky as his wife and her daughter as a member of his family. Only people with families were allowed to live in the ghetto. In 1942, through a man named Misha Gerenburg, they went to join the partisans in the forest. Before the liberation, in early March 1944, Grisha, Frida and her daughter were on a mission in Gaisin. As they were walking away from a messenger, Germans noticed them, chased them with dogs, caught them and shot them, along with other partisans. A few days later, Soviet forces liberated Gaisin. Partisans came out of the forest, identified the mutilated Grisha by his yellow leather jacket, and buried him in Gaisin in a city park. The other Grisha, Azril’s son who lived in Bershad, was in the army. He was religious, tried to eat only kosher food. Because of malnutrition, he fell ill with night-blindness. He died on the front in Belarus. I trudged on toward Gaisin. Soviet troops were walking on the road. I got to ride on a tank, sitting next to the gun, for around twenty-five kilometers. A general named Agapov questioned me. To calm me down, he said that my brother was probably alive. When I arrived in Tulchin, I saw that my house on Karl Liebknecht Street had been burned down. My father’s printing presses had been taken away. I went to the ghetto. There was nobody left there. I settled in an empty house on 18 Volodarsky Street, living all alone. Feathers were flying through cold empty rooms. The owner of the house came back from Bershad. The front was nearby, and there was fighting over Odessa. I went to Gaisin hoping to find relatives. My grandfather’s house was burned down. The house of my aunt, whose last name was Shkolnik, was also gone. I went up the mountain. Among the ruins some man asked me, “What are you looking for?” It was Misha Gerenburg. He had spent the war among the partisans. He took me in. He lived with Raya Strizhesvky, Frida’s sister, near the military quarters. I spent several days there. Raya went to Uman with some peasants who were transporting produce, to look for her relatives. It was still March 1944 when I met a disabled woman and offered to help her with her suitcase. She led me to her home on Sadovaya Street, where she let me spend the night in the kitchen. It was cold; I couldn’t sleep. I got up, washed all the dishes, washed the floor. She let me live with her. To earn my living, I washed the windows for a military man whose family had perished. His name was Pyotr Zagrudny. He became the director of a research and training farm. I was studying in a clinic to become a dentist. In the clinic, there was a doctor whose last name was Trayan. He had saved the life of a Jewish doctor’s daughter by the name of Eva. He had hidden her in his cellar throughout the war. As I was looking for Jews who returned from evacuation, I ran into an acquaintance, a ger (a Russian converted to Judaism). My grandfathers had been engaged in missionary work and many converted to Judaism with their help. During these difficult years, most of them gave their fellow Jewish believers away. But this ger, a shoemaker, remained faithful to Judaism. He was disabled, having been beaten up in the market. He asked me, “Girl, why do you follow me around?” I replied, “I know you, you studied under Azril, I am his granddaughter.” He invited me to his house, fed me. I next went to Uman and then I left for Kharkov with the help of friends who got me bread ration cards and a plane ticket. I knew that my aunt had been evacuated from Kharkov, and I hoped to find her. Maybe she remained alive. Eventually, I found my aunt, Esther Izrailevna Vaisleib, when she came back from Aktyubinsk. In Kharkov, the governing authorities had assigned her one room. She took in Jewish orphaned children to bring them up, and we all lived in terrible crowdedness. My aunt worked sorting cabbage in the Workers’ Supply Department. She sought to give her adopted children an education. She would go and take exams in the children’s place. I also wanted to study, but my aunt said that I wouldn’t be able to get admitted anywhere, since I spoke a terrible mix of languages. This was a result of years spent in the camp among multilingual people. I got upset with my aunt; I took it hard psychologically. I knew that the Institute of Construction Materials was accepting applicants, and I tried to take the exams. In the fall of 1944, I was called in to see Investigator Kapranov in Kharkov. He tried to accuse me of collaboration with the Germans, since I remained alive in an occupied territory. I was laid off from work. The investigator forced me to identify the former Polizei. He shouted that if I didn’t identify them, I myself would be subject to be shot. The police set up a confrontation: They brought in the handcuffed Polizei, who stood in two rows, unkempt, looking down. It was difficult to identify them, but I did identify Smetansky. Signs that called on people to identify traitors were hung up around the city. Many didn’t want to go, were afraid. I wanted to avenge the dead. These people had done so much evil. It’s not only that they betrayed and destroyed Jews; they also betrayed communists. The Polizei traitors got twenty to twenty-five years in prison, but they came back home earlier because of amnesty.
I managed to get a pension of 105 rubles for my brother who died at the front. I sent Khruschev a letter, writing about my situation, that I wanted to study. A deputy named Kuklina came to visit me and assigned me one room in a former Jewish apartment; she made a street sweeper share the space. I started visiting the medical clinic to see the Jewish doctor Rakuzina. She said that I needed to learn to work. I was given a pension and received twelve meters of gauze. I made curtains out of it, set apart a “closet” for clothes. I made a mattress out of straw and I slept on a bed that had three legs. There was no lock; instead, I put a cobblestone by the door. I sold my bread ration card and bought a lock and a little kazan pot. I made a stove for myself to cook beans on. I was studying under the dentist Tsilya Iosifovna. Before I even mastered the profession properly, I opened a dentistry office in my room. There was a market nearby, and peasants came to see me. The doctor Beletsky and the dentistry technician Isaac Markovich helped me, and I was friendly with the finances department. I was studying hard to master the dental profession. My aunt brought me a textbook for distance learning students, and I received a study permit for the institute of dentistry for war invalids. I soon met my future husband. He also came from a religious family. During the war, he was a partisan scout and joined the Communist Party. He was against a religious marriage, but I insisted. We had a secret chuppah in an entranceway of a half-dilapidated house. We celebrated with Tula gingerbread and vodka. As a wedding gift, my husband gave me a pack of foreign underwear. I was happy. My life was such a contrast to the three and a half years in the concentration camp and wanderings in the woods and among dilapidated houses. My husband got an apartment in Kharkov, in a dormitory of the Govorov Academy. My son was born in 1948. Even before I was released from the maternity hospital, I made an arrangement with an old Hasidic Jew that he would secretly circumcise my son. In Grade 4, my son was beaten for being circumcised. We had to transfer him to a different school. In 1952, I gave birth to a daughter, Ludmila. More than once, my husband and I visited the places where my loved ones had perished, where many thousands of Jews had perished. With the help of local authorities, I succeeded in collecting funds and setting up memorials in the locations of their mass graves. Near these memorials I would tell young people about the things we had to live through during the years of the Nazi occupation and about those who met their end at the hands of Nazi occupants and local traitors.
November 1995, Moscow
 In 1939, about 5,600 Jews lived in Tulchin, about 42 per cent of the population. In the 1990s, 150 Jews remained in the town.  A mystical and spiritual branch of Judaism, established in the seventeenth century.  Gaisin, also known as Haisin or Gaysin, is 100 kilometres from the province’s major city, Vinnitsa. This area was heavily populated with small villages, or shtetls, and small cities (such as Uman) in which many Jews lived in earlier centuries, until they were victims of severe pogroms. See IAJGSjewishcemeteryproject.org (International Association of Jewish Genealogical Studies).  Symon Petliura (1879–1926), a nationalist leader and politician, advocated for an independent Ukraine between 1917 and 1921; he was head of state between 1919 and 1920. During the Civil War, Petliura’s troops fought against both Bolshevik and White Russian forces. Petliura’s legacy is controversial due to the Ukrainian army’s pogroms against Jews during his time as leader, when an estimated 35,000 to 50,000 Jews were killed.  Nikifor Grigoriev (1885–1919) was a paramilitary leader of partisan forces during the Russian Civil War. Opposed to what he referred to as Jewish Bolshevik communists, he led a series of anti-Jewish pogroms in Kiev, Kherson and Poltava in 1919.  Between 1921 and 1928, Soviet policy changed from a socialist ideology to one of private ownership of small industry and nationalized, state-controlled large industry. See http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/59/lenins-new-economic-policy-what-it-was-and-how-it-changed-the-soviet-union  Sholem Aleichem (a Hebrew phrase meaning literally “Peace be upon you,” and commonly translated as the greeting “How are you”) was born in 1859 and is renowned as one of the founders of modern Yiddish literature. See http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/sholem_aleichem  Ladyzhin, similar to other towns and cities in the Vinnitsa district — Gaisin, Tulchin, Uman, Bershad and Obodovka — was occupied by German troops in the summer of 1941. In Ladyzhin, Gaisin and Uman, more than twenty thousand Jews were murdered in September and October 1941. Soon after, this area was occupied by Romanian troops and was annexed into the zone of Transnistria, a 16,000-square-mile region between the Dniester and Bug rivers that originally had been part of Ukraine. The Romanians deported hundreds of thousands of Jews from Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia to Transnistria, an area comprised of ghettos, labour camps and concentration camps. From Ladyzhin and Tulchin, Jews were transferred to the Pechora camp. Transnistria, where between 150,00 and 250,00 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were killed, was liberated by the Red Army in the spring of 1944. This extensive note illustrates the process of annihilation of the Jews in Ukraine and the Pale of Settlement by the Nazis and their collaborators.  This massacre took place on September 16–17, 1941. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life, 418.  On November 10, 1941, approximately 3,000 Jews were forced from Tulchin to Pechora (Pechera).  The village of Pechora is located along the Southern Bug river in the Tulchin region (formerly Shpikov region) of the Vinnitsa Oblast (province); the camp was located at the northeastern border of Transnistria, the territory in Ukraine under Romanian occupation during World War II. In December 1941, Jews from the surrounding regions – Tulchin, Bratslav, Shpikov, Trostyanets – and later from more distant regions – Mogilev-Podolsky (Mohyliv-Podilskyi), Bukovina and Bessarabia – were brought to Pechora. See Rebecca Golbert, “Holocaust Sites in Ukraine: The Politics of Memorialization,” 11.14.2002. NCEEER, National Council for Eurasian and Eastern European Research, Washington, DC. Accessed from ucis.pitt.edu.  Between 6,500 and 11,000 Jews were deported to Pechora, which was known as the Dead Loop camp; more than 80 per cent died there. See https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/tulchyn/holocaust.asp.  In February 1943, the German army surrendered to the Soviets at the end of the Battle of Stalingrad.  On November 27, 1944, at the demand of the head of the unit of Ukrainian Security Services of Vinnitsa region, P.M. Kapranov, Svetlana was a witness at a war tribunal held by the NKVD armed forces of Vinnitsa region.