Survivor Experiences

These are true personal accounts of strength, courage, persistence and faith.

Semyon is from Moldava.  He and his future wife, Raisa, both lived in the ghetto at the same time.  As they watched the cats and dogs roam in and out of the ghetto, they were jealous of them because they (the cats and dogs) had more freedom and a better life than they, the human prisoners.

Eventually, they escaped and were hidden in barns where cows were kept. The women who came to feed the cows would pretend not to see the people who were hidden in the barn. Over time, the Ukrainian partisans learned of the presence of the Jews hidden in the barn.

They made a plan to take them out, to freedom. The partisans obtained police uniforms and disguised themselves as police. The partisans came to the barn and took the Jews. The locals were afraid of the “police” and, therefore, did not stop them from taking the Jews. So, Semyon and Raisa escaped their hiding place and were taken among the partisans. Semyon and some of the other Jewish men who had been in hiding were taken for interrogation by the partisan leaders. Semyon thought that they would be shot.

They were interrogated by partisan officers for a long time and were asked about their intentions and whether or not they were willing to fight the Germans. One of the officers, a captain, was very antagonistic and spoke in a very hostile and threatening manner to Semyon. Semyon asked the officer, “If you are going to shoot me, could I have a bite to eat before you do it?” The aggressive officer replied, “We will feed you, and then I will give you a bullet [meaning, a bullet through the head].”

After several long interrogations, a colonel came and questioned why they had been in such a long conversation with these young Jews. Semyon asked him, “Before you shoot us, please, tell me one thing, what have we done to deserve execution? Was it our fault that we were put in that place [the ghetto]?”

The colonel began to cry. He told Semyon, “Relax. We are not going to shoot you. On the contrary, we know all about you. We have heard from others about where you were and what you did. You are…for us…heroes.” It turns out that the colonel was also a Jew.

Eventually, the Red Army (Soviet Army) reached that region, and took control of the partisans. Semyon was sent to Red army unit, which also had as its leader a Jewish colonel, and there he also believed that he was going to be shot. When he arrived at this next army unit, he asked them, “Are you going to shoot me?” They told him, “Wait! The colonel will come and decide what to do with you.”

Semyon told them, “What do we need the colonel for? If you are going to shoot me, you can shoot me without waiting for the colonel.” When the colonel came, he told Semyon, “Don’t worry. We are not going to shoot you. Aren’t there enough Germans out there for us to shoot? No, we are going to make a man out of you.”

That is how Semyon went from being a boy, to a prisoner, to being a partisan, to becoming a soldier in the Red Army.