By 1941, however, the Nazis had taken away most of the town’s Jewish men.
“Luckily, a good Polish man gave my father a rifle and 150 bullets,” Jack said. “My father started the nucleus of a mostly Jewish fighting group – the majority were Russian Jews – with other Polish and Ukrainian and Russian fighters.”
On Sept. 23, 1942, the Nazis and police began rounding up all the remaining Jewish residents of the town.
“They took us out, put us in the middle of a road and counted everyone,” she later recalled in a news article. She was then a 32-year-old mother, holding the hands of her daughters, ages 4 and 2.
The situation was still fluid. She tried to get people to do something, anything, saying they should burn the town and run for the forests. People were too afraid to try.
“So she told her mother and sisters and daughters, ‘Let me try to find a place for us to hide,’ ” Jack said.
A policeman stopped her as she left the area. “Why waste a bullet on me now?” she argued. “You’re going to kill us all tomorrow.”
He let her leave.
She found a barn and tried to go back for her family, but by then there were too many guards. Even if she managed to get back to her family, there was no way they could escape together.
“She went back to the barn,” her son said. “And the next morning she heard the shots.”
Twenty-five members of her family and her husband’s family were killed.
“Three-hundred-eighty Jews were rounded up and taken to the edge of town, shot and buried in a mass grave,” said daughter Bella Smith.
Nazis began searching the countryside, including the barn where she was hiding. She was grazed by a bayonet as a Nazi stabbed the hay pile. That night, she crawled into the forest, alone for months.
“She didn’t know my father was alive,” her daughter said. “He didn’t know she was alive. He heard there may have been survivors and found her. She was down to 80 pounds and he carried her back to the partisan unit.”
The partisan group, which became known as the Kruk-Max Otryad, grew to include 150 fighters and more than 250 civilians in a family camp, the third-largest such group in Europe, Jack said.
“Mom was the nurse and a cook with the fighter group,” Jack said. “Theirs is like the story of the movie, ‘Defiance,’ about the Bielski Otryad.”
After liberation by the Russians in 1944, they lived at the Bindermichel displaced persons camp near Linz, Austria. There they were a rare married couple who survived the war, becoming surrogate parents to young people who had lost their own.
“They would walk these girls down the aisle when they married,” Jack said.
His father’s brother, in the U.S. since the 1920s, heard they were alive. He sent $100, enough for steerage tickets for the couple and son Jack. They first lived in Chicago, but soon settled in Milwaukee in 1946.
Posted on December 19, 2009 by purpleslog