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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.