Kobylnik is Liberated
by Meyer Svirsky
Translated from the memorial book of Kobylnik, Sefer Kobylnik, Haifa:1967, pp.244-251

Summer 1944.

For over a year I am in Stalingrad on the banks of the Volga. It is becoming clearer and clearer that the day is approaching when the Nazi monster will be defeated.

     Stalingrad, the city which has become a symbol of heroism in the war against the Germans, is rising slowly from destruction. I am among the re-builders of the tractor factory and recently we celebrated the first tractor that came off the assembly line.

     From the time of the defeat in Stalingrad at the beginning of 1943, the Red Army pushed the German Army far west. Daily there are new victories. Cities and areas have been liberated from Nazi occupation. The Red Army marches forward!

     The news broadcasts also describe the atrocious deeds and the destruction that the Germans left behind them in the liberated areas. In the newspapers, there are hints of the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators. I witnessed this personally two years ago. There are no Jews left in the liberated cities and villages.
The Belarus front was breached. I hold my breath and listen to every announcement. The Red Army advances with bloody battles. Every name of every liberated village awakens memories and hope. The day is approaching when my birthplace Kobylnik will be liberated.

     Two long years I waited with wounded heart, with just a flicker of hope sustaining me. Perhaps a dear one has survived. And now the day is approaching when I will have to face the bitter reality and my spark of hope will be extinguished. How will I continue to live! More than any time during the past two years, I feel the loneliness and sorrow within me. Will what I dare not say aloud be verified? Will I remain alone in the world? One by one there stand before me the visions of my most dear from my so beloved home. Parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends—I see all of them alive, happy and thrilled with the approaching great victory over our bloodthirsty enemies. The dreams do not long continue. I find no basis for them. My own eyes saw too much of how the murderers worked. There is no place for illusions. Nevertheless, they exist. The heart hopes. I do not want to expel them. Without them there remains only emptiness and darkness.

     My thoughts return me to that August day in 1942 when I departed from Kobylnik. From that time I have heard nothing from my family and from the 250 Jewish people that were then still alive.
At that time Kobylnik Jewry received the order to send six Jews to Myadel (21 kilometers eastwards from Kobylnik) as an addition to those Kobylnik Jews who were earlier sent there to work. Although it was known that in Myadel there was work, there was no doubt that after its completion, no one would return from there. The maximum that Kobylnik could send was four people. Among them was my father David Swirski, the father of six small children. The village head was convinced to send only four people. How this would be accepted by the Germans in Myadel, no one knew. All four are packed for the journey. The horse drawn wagon is ready. At home—grief. Mother has to remain alone with her six small children. Not only is there the fear of death but also certain hunger awaits us. I ask the Jewish Committee to send me in place of my father. They agree. I look older than my almost 15 years. I have worked hard for over a year and will not lag behind the adults. I am happy that father will remain at home.

     There is not enough time for farewells. Hertzel, my brother, is not at home. Mother gives me the tefillin and bible and parts from me with tears and a broken heart. Father blesses me: May G-d watch over you and take care of you! His main advice: at the first opportunity, run, my child, to the forest. Hitler will be defeated; it is only a matter of time. We with small children have no chance to survive. Let at least one of us remain. May there be someone to say Kaddish.

     On Myadel Street, on the way out of the village, my brother Hertzel, who is two years younger than me, runs over to us. He jumps into the wagon. We say good bye, looking at each other without stop. We, the two loving brothers and friends—we promise—we will escape! We know that in the forests are partisans. On the outskirts of the village Hertzel jumps from the wagon. The tears choke us. His figure becomes more distant from me, and with him, also my family, my home, my village.

     During those days on the eve of the liberation of Kobylnik again and again living images appear before my eyes. This give me hope and pushes away depression. Perhaps the Kobylnik Jews, at least some of them, succeeded in escaping to the forest as did the Jews of Myadel. Perhaps there also was a commander in the model of Michael Patashnik (from the village Hodutzishki) that organized the escape of a part of the Myadel Jews, including women and children, to the forest. Perhaps some Kobylnik Jews made the difficult passage through the forests of White Russia and reached the Russian-German front and crossed into Russia, as I did.

... I am in the middle of repairing an electrical steel oven. Work and dream: suddenly I hear the news broadcasted over a loud speaker. The Myadel area has been liberated. This means that Kobylnik has certainly been liberated. I share my excitement with those around me. The first thought is to write a letter home.
I want to but do not dare. My hand trembles and I wander about like a wounded animal. People encourage me. It is not difficult to understand me. After a few hours I sit down and write. I write to Father and Mother, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends. To all I write one letter. And as I write I have no doubt that they all will read my letter.
Four months have passed. The front is already in Poland. All areas of the Soviet Union have been liberated. Everywhere spirits are high. And I still wait for an answer.
I have no idea how long it takes for a letter to arrive. I never received letters in Stalingrad. There was no one who could write. Every day I look at the bulletin board with the list of names of those who received letters. In futility, I search for my name.
     It is over a week that I have stopped looking at the list. More than ever do I have feelings of doubt and hopelessness. Suddenly, a co-worker runs over to me and tells me that my name is on the list on the board.
Filled with excitement, I arrive at the board but find my father’s name Swirsky, David, and not Meyer. This means that my letter has been returned to me. Two days later I gather strength and go to take my letter from the office. Immediately I recognize my father’s handwriting. Before I even touch the letter, I faint. In the first aid room, the nurse reads me the letter that my father wrote in Russian. That letter I remember word by word.


Our dearest Meyerke,

At this moment there is no end to our joy. Today we came out of the forest and immediately upon arrival in the village we received your letter which proved that you are alive. Is there anything today dearer than a child that has remained alive, another living Jew?!

I am healthy. Thirty-six Jews from the village survived with us. The others were lost, and among them our dear son, your beloved brother Herzele. Most of the village was burned. Our house was also burned. Those who remained alive are: Uncle Yehoshua Gordon and his sons Yisroel Leib, Herztke and Itzele, Afroike Kravtzinski, Ida Burgin and children, Leib Freedman and family, Josef Blinder and family, Tzivke Charmatz, her sister Sara and her husband Notel Zar. Meyer-Shmerel Chodosh, Itzke Tzernatzki, Asher Krukov, Ben-Zion Steingart, Chone and Hirshel Dimentstein, Abrasha Chodosh, Chaya Liba Tzernotzki, and her brother Feival. There is hope that others survived. Fate wanted us to remain alive. The Almighty watched over us in times that were too difficult to bear. Thanks to your mother, who was needed as a seamstress by the Germans, we were released from the last massacre the day after Yom Kippur 1942 and were transferred with a few other families of handicraftsmen to the ghetto in Myadel. We were released from Myadel by the partisans and remained in the forest until the area was liberated in July 1944.

Others from our village unfortunately found their death in the forest. Now is not the time to describe what experiences we lived through in the forest. Thank G-d that we remained alive. Chanele, Minele, Yehoshua and Zundele, who grew up during our time in the forest, hug and kiss you, and your mother, my dear Chava, does not have strength today to write. She holds you close to her heart.
On this day, so joyous to all of us, my child, do not forget our dear and beloved ones who gave their lives for Kiddush Hashem, for the glorification of G-d’s name. Those who always were part of us shall always live on in your heart, in the hearts of all of us. We will never forget them.
Do not forget the murderers who have been defeated today: the Nazi enemy and his collaborators. May their names and memory be blotted out.

Today we are celebrating your rebirth together with our freedom. We are proud of the Jewish partisans from our village and among them are Hertzel Gordon, Meyer Chodosh and Chaim Asher Gilman together with many others who fought against the Germans as they revenged the spilled Jewish blood. Their deeds bring great honor to our nation and are a bright page in the dark historical time through which we lived.

With heartfelt kisses-your father
Josef David Leib Swirski

Stalingrad November 1945
     After many months of impatient waiting, I suddenly received permission to travel and visit my parents and family. I am filled with joy! After over 3 years I will again see my mother and father, my brothers and sisters.
     The trains are filled with released soldiers returning to their homes. There are no remaining tickets for the trains. Also, there is no power that can stop me.
     A few days, later I am in Moscow. Also here I somehow manage to board a train going to Vilna.
The hours are so long. The passing towns do not interest me. My thoughts do not turn to them, even though I passed through some of them in 1942 on my difficult way to the front. November, three years previously I successfully crossed the front and became a free person. Now my eyes and my thoughts are focused on one house in the village of Postavy where my family now resides. I want to arrive there as soon as possible.

The 7th of November, Midnight
My feet touch the train station at Postavy. I run the two kilometers from the train station to Postavy and here I am, in front of the house at number 8 Lenin Street.
     I first meet a neighbor, Mrs. Fanny Zepelovitz. She takes me through the yard to my family’s apartment. She calls out: Chava, you have a guest.
     During my years in Russia I forgot how to speak Yiddish. I said Hello in Russian and was incapable of uttering another syllable. My feet froze and I could not take another step.
The house has a festive air. The table is set with food and drink. Immediately I recognize my father and mother and several of the people from our village. Through the bedroom door, I see sleeping children.
As is the custom in the Soviet Union, the date of the revolution is commemorated also in my parents’ home.
I am wearing quilted pants and coat and a winter cap is pulled down to my eyes.
No one recognizes me. My father asks my mother—What does the guest want? Give him a chair and a glass. Ask him who he is and what brings him to us at such a late hour. Meanwhile I see through the door a small blond head rising from the pillow. I imagine that this is my four year-old brother, Zundele. The noise has awoken him. He looks at me from his bed and suddenly screams—Meyer has arrived!
The only one who had not remembered me recognized me instinctively. Mother removed my hat and recognized the scar on my forehead (caused by a kick from a horse). And with shouts of Meyerke, she embraces me and faints.

     A half an hour later, I am bathed and dressed in a presentable fashion and seated at the table together with my dear ones. United, we celebrate our great joy together.



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