Truth – Legends / From the Ghetto to the Forest
We were told to be prepared to leave for the forest. There would be no guide. Vasilenko would lead us with the help of a map and a compass. We would be armed only with pistols. And the women would not be permitted to join us.
I was really angry. It was only then that I understood the meaning of the words written by Mirele Vainer to Tuvia Pilovnik in the “malina”: “Tuvia my dear, know what you have to do!” We could have gone to Augustovo with the women, even when the plans were unclear and the likelihood of arriving there was slender. Now, when the way to the partisans in the forest was feasible, we had to leave the women in the ghetto and be content with the promise that they would follow after some undefined amount of time. The whole thing seemed quite unreasonable and I frequently expressed my opinion and stated that I would not leave the ghetto without Sima.
I had not seen Chaim of late. He was busy arranging transport to take us to the forest. Sima told me the reason the women had to stay behind was that there was no money to get arms for them. For each individual, 15,000 rubles or 1500 marks was needed. I told Sima to sell my winter coat, the gold ring – in fact, to sell anything that could be sold – and to hand over the money in order to buy arms for her. After counting the proceeds for all the items we sold, we were still missing 600 marks. The missing sum was offered by my cousin Leibl. Sima turned over the money. Strangely enough: Meishe Rubinson and his wife Sarah had not gone to Augustovo, nor had he gone alone or with her, and nevertheless, they travelled to the forest in the first car on December 14, 1943. Leibl Gempl, brother of Berl, and his wife refused to go to Augustovo – they travelled in the second car on December 23, 1943. In the third vehicle which left on December 28, 1943, were Leib Sher and his wife Lea and they, too, had not gone to Augustovo.
The money was returned to Sima. She was told that she would be sent to the forest in another car; that it was impossible to send the wives together with their husbands. I insisted that I would remain in the ghetto. But Sima asked me to leave without her. She had been solemnly promised that she would leave in the next car.
Thursday, January 6, 1944. That evening a car would reach the ghetto to take our group. I parted from Sima. All the wives of the men in the group were left behind in the room, while the men went along to the car at the ghetto gate. I was the last to leave the room and after I had gone some twenty meters, I instinctively turned around. From afar, a light flashed in the window...and my heart sank...
We assembled near the gate of the ghetto in Varniu Street. All those who had escaped from the fort and whom I had led to the ghetto were with me. Only one was missing – Meishe Gerber. He had not been with us in the “malina” either. We did not see him in the room, or alongside the festive table on the New Year. After I had helped him into the ghetto, he disappeared. I was told that he had gone home.
Chaim was at my side. I asked him about my weapons. He took a pistol out of his pocket and gave it to me. The vehicle for the night shift was called for. We were on our way; we climbed into the car and were covered with a tarpaulin, and the car began to move...Sima wrote a poem, “You left...”