Women of Valor: Partisans and Resistance Fighters
Evelyn Kahn - Part II
We went back to the ghetto and life started to normalize itself. Now people were beginning to believe the news that was coming in from the other shtetlekh was definitely true, that they were killing Jews elsewhere just like they were killing them here. But what do you do about it?
My uncle Chaim was one of three men in the ghetto who decided to form some sort of resistance. My uncle Chaim would come into the ghetto periodically, from the Partisans, trying very hard to enlist men. Nobody listened to him. Everyone was basically afraid. In August of 1942 he decided it was time for my grandmother, my mother and me to go into the forest. Conditions were getting pretty bad in the ghetto. People became very irritable. I couldn't help but notice how differently people behaved towards each other. People were only looking for something bad to point out in other people. I remember people blamed part of the trouble in the ghetto on radicals like my uncle Chaim, who was a Partisan.5 Mother already had a feeling that it really didn't matter any more. The end was coming. Unfortunately, I had scarlet fever, with a very high fever. I remember my mother asking the doctor what she should do, and I remember the reply was, "If you take her to the forest surely she will die because there is no medication and no doctors. Here she has half a chance." Scarlet fever is a contagious disease, and my mother was told to take me out of the house. The neighbours didn't care if the Germans shot me, as long as I was out of the house. There were no hospitals in the ghetto, only an asylum for the insane. My mother took me there and stayed there with me. I remember the terrible faces that I saw in that ward, but they didn't scare me for some reason. I just felt that they were part of the natural scenery. They weren't going to hurt me.
In a matter of hours the first shots were heard outside. I remember my mother grabbing me, taking me out of my bed and carrying me back to the house where we came from. There was a lot of commotion. People were running, screaming. People were going to the marketplace where everyone was destined again to be sorted out. But they didn't know, poor souls, that this was the end; no piece of paper was going to save them. My mother knew that there was a bunker, a schron, in the house.6 Other people were also trying to get into the schron to hide. They also weren't going to go to the marketplace. They started to holler that I'm not to go into the bunker because I was sick and would infect them with my disease. My mother said to them, "At this point it doesn't matter. They can shoot us right here. We're not moving." Slowly quite a few people started leaving the bunker. Some were afraid they were going to be infected with my disease. Some left because it was very uncomfortable. I can't tell you the height of the bunker but it was terribly low because even I, even as a small child of eight couldn't remain in a sitting position there. You could only stretch out and just lie there. All the people eventually left except for six people. We stayed there, I believe for seven days and seven nights listening to the calamities outside.7 They were bombing all the shelters with hand grenades. I remember the screams of the people, children. It was unbearable, but we just lay there like we were dead.
Although Evelyn's grandmother had suffered a heart attack and her mother an attack of retinitis pigmentosa, a blinding disease, they remained in the bunker and evaded capture during the Aktion. They left the bunker stealthily and made their way out of the city without being detected. After many days Evelyn's mother managed to locate a local farmer, Vashka, who had agreed to take them to the Partisans family camp. He was a kind and caring man who fed them and did indeed bring them to the Partisans family camp, where they were joyously reunited with Aunt Aviva and her husband.
In the beginning, things weren't terribly organized in the forest. Somehow peole got adjusted to living there like animals. The winters were bitterly cold, and we used to dig holes in the ground. We called them ziemlanka. They would try to dig down thirty, sixty feet, as far as they could go. Unfortunately, it was very low ground and they used to hit a lot of water. But the pits offered some protection from the bitter frost outside. They used to put trees over the holes, to serve as roofs. Amazingly enough, in these ziemlankas life became quite comfortable except for the fact that there were always oblavas. The Germans wouldn't give up on the few Jews that survived. They were always coming and chasing us and shooting at us like deer in the forest, so you could never stay in one place. You were always running from one place to the other.
But when we were lucky enough to make our home a few months in one place, things were not too bad. I don't remembe anyone dying of hunger there.