October, 2009 מסע שורשים של משפחת אטקין לבלארוס בעברית
We returned from an amazing and very exciting "Roots-Trip" in Belarus, which will be remembered by us for many years. The participants in this trip were as follows: Menachem Etkin,a 2G to a Holocaust survivor, my wife, Mazal, and our son, Eyal, who is a 3G to a Holocaust survivor, my brother, Haim Etkin - a 2G, and his wife, Taly. This "Roots-Trip" was managed and very well planned and directed by Tamara Borodach, who specializes in organizing Roots-trips to Belarus.
Here is a brief description and a few photos (all the pictures may be enlarged with a click):
We had erected a memorial monument with the help of Mr. Franklin Schwartz of Minsk in the Jewish cemetery of Dokshitsy in memory of my grandmother (whom I never met) Eva (Chava) Kaminska-Etkin, who was a brave Jewish partisan in Belarus. She was a medical nurse in the "October" Brigade. My father, Michael (Mishka) Etkin, who survived the Holocaust but lost all of his family, continued searching for his dear beloved mother during all his life, with no success....But only when he reached the age of 65 he asked the Belorussian embassy in Israel to try to search in the archives in Belarus: What happened to Eva Kaminska-Etkin from the "October" brigade? He received from them a letter saying that she was caught by the Nazis in May 1944 in the forests of Belarus (together with her fellow partisans), tortured, and hanged by the Nazis on June 3rd, 1944 (a few
weeks before the liberation of Belarus from the Nazi occupation). Although my father apparantly did not know it, in the Globokie Yizkor book her story was mentioned, including the statement that she and her comrades were hung in Dokshitsy. We conducted a memorial ceremony there, with the participation of a member of the District government, local newspaper journalists and photographers, and Mr. Nikolai Dmitrovich Chiastikov, who still remembers well when the Nazis had built the hanging ramp in Dokshitsy in 1944, on which they hanged my dear grandmother together with her fellow partisans friends from the "October" brigade. My wife, Mazal, read a very emotional and moving memorial which she wrote at home a day earlier, "Our Dear Eva (Chava), after 65 years, we are here..." The text continues.( or in Hebrew)
Since his mother's place of burial is unknown (though just a few months ago my mother found at home an old notebook which my father wrote in 1949 with all of his memories from Belarus, in which he wrote that a partisan he met told him that she was buried somewhere near Plissa.) and she has no grave, he wanted to try to find her grave, put a stone on it (according to the Jewish custom), and tell her that: "Despite Everything... - we had won". So, we had erected this memorial monument for her, which will hopefully stand in Dokshitsy forever. We had fulfilled his wish.
We pasted on the back of this memorial monument a very unique aluminum sign, with all of the names of our family members who were killed in Belarus during the Holocaust.
I gave a one hour lecture in the Dokshitsy high school, in front of on hundred students, about my father's life story: "Despite Everything...I had Won" - Michael Etkin z"l. I lectured in English, and the local English teacher and our dedicated guide translated it to Russian. After the lecture, I donated the book in English "Despite Everything...I had Won" to the school's library. (In all of my lectures in schools in Israel during the last 4 years - I donated the Hebrew version of this book to every school's library).
Next we traveled to my father's shtetl - Krulevshchizna, a village in the Dokshitsy District between Dokshitsy and Globokoe, where we searched for the Etkin family house. We met with the three oldest ladies in the village, who remembered the Etkin family, and showed us the house (which is a now a music school), and also the location where the Etkin family businesses were located: the flour-mill and the sawmill. Here is a picture taken in approximately 1935 in Krulevshchizna of the extended Etkin family. Shown are Standing from left to right: Eva (Chava) Kaminska-Etkin, my father's uncle Hanoch (Chonke) Etkin,his wife(name unknown), Chanan Pirivoskin (husband of my father's aunt Rachel Etkin), Bomma Kabakov - a cousin, who came from Israel to visit the family in Krulevshchizna, my father's aunt Rachel Etkin, and one more unknown family relative. Sitting: My father's grandparents: Chaya-Liebe Kabakov and
Shaul-Rafael Etkin. At the bottom, from left to right: Mike (Zelik) Hodosh - my father's cousin, my father Michael (Mishka) Etkin, his twin brother Chaim-Shepse (Shepsele) Etkin, and Greg (Hirshel) Hodosh - my father's cousin (Mike Hodosh's brother).
A year or two later my grandparents and their twins, my father(next to my grandmother) and my uncle(who died in the Holocaust), posed in front of their house. On the right is a picture of the house as it looks today.
We headed to the city of Globokoe. The Jews of Krulevshchizna including the entire extended Etkin family were forced by the Nazis into the Globokoe ghetto in October 1941. We visited the three mass graves, and held a memorial service. We lit a memory candle there and said the Kaddish.
On August 20th, 1943 early in the morning, the Nazis' tanks which surrounded the Glubokoe ghetto started to bomb the ghetto with fire-bombs, and the Nazi's machine-guns were firing at jews all over the ghetto.
Most of the Jews gathered in the area of the ghetto, which is facing towards the "Barok" forest two kilometers away, and started to break the ghetto's wooden fence by kicking and hitting it. My father's aunt Lea was also standing there, holding both of the twins (my father Mishka and his brother Shepsele) on both sides of her. My eleven year old father told his aunt Leah: "Lets run away from here now, or we will die....," but she replied: "No, we are not running! We are staying here together." So, my father probably understood that this is probably the last minute in which he can save his life, and he had released his arm from his aunt's grasp, and started running very fast through the broken wooden fence of the burning Glubokoe ghetto, towards the nearest forest which was full of
Partisans. The Nazis were firing with their automatic machine-guns after all of the Jews, who were running in the open field towards the "Barok" forest. During my father's "race-for-life" in the open field, a bullet had hit his leg, but he continued running as long as he could. However, after about one and a half kilometers of running with a bleeding foot he fell down in the open field. He looked for someone to pick him up and help him to get to the near forest. And indeed, the blessed "angel" arrived. His name was : Motke Kraut. He picked up my father, and carried him on his shoulder into the "Barok" forest, to the Partisans....His mother Eva Kaminska-Etkin was fighting with the "October" Partisans brigade against the Nazis in another forest.
We drove to the old Jewish cemetery in Glubokoe to try to find the graves of my grandfather Menachem-Mendel Etkin z"l (who died at the age of 32, due to a lethal blood infection, in March 1941 about six months before the Etkin family was forced by the Nazis to relocate to the Globokoe ghetto), my great-grandfather Shaul-Rafael Etkin z"l, and my father's uncle Haim-Shabtai z"l (who died at the age of 19). But unfortunately, we did find any of the Etkin family tombstones, because most of the tombstones in this cemetery were totally ruined by the Nazis. The rest of the tombstones are either broken or unreadable.
We had a very warm meeting with the mayor of Globokoe in his office, for about an hour. in which we also discussed some future ideas about how to keep the memory of the Jewish people who were killed by the Nazis in the Globokoe ghetto. We gave the mayor a copy of my father's book, and received a picture of a local church.
I gave another one hour lecture at the Glubokoe high school, in front of 100 students. This lecture was in Hebrew, with a translation to Russian. I donated the book to the school's library.
Then, we visited the Globokoe hospital, where my grandmother had worked as a nurse until October 1941. We met with the hospital's director
Our entire visit in Dokshitsy and in Globokoe was covered by a few local and regional newspaper journalists and photographers, and by a regional radio station.
To learn more about my father's story, his 162 page book "Despite Everything...I had Won" may be downloaded.