Witness #: YIU/2092U, male, born 1929
Yahad trip #: 45UK, recorded 10 June 2016
Record time: 01:40:30
Languages: Ukrainian, French
I = Interviewer, W = witness
[0:00:15] I: When were you born?
[0:00:17] W: 20 January 1929
[0:00:29] I: Where? Where were you born?
[0:00:23] W: In the village Verbylivtsi, near here. A kilometer and a half from here, I was born there. And it was my destiny to come here [to Rohatyn].
[0:00:58] I: Until what age, how many years did you live in Verbylivtsi?
[0:01:02] W: I lived 20 years in Verbylivtsi, and on 16 December 1949 they took us — my family — and sent us to Siberia, myself included. There were four of us. My older brother, me, my father and mother. They sent us to Siberia. My father was the head of the village council, but, despite that, they took him. Because my father refused to deport anyone from the village, he was himself deported — first of all.
[0:02:14] I: You were there as well, your entire family was there?
[0:02:16] W: Yes. Ten years.
[0:02:32] I: Can you describe how it all happened when you were being deported? They came, they informed you, or how did it happen?
[0:02:40] W: They came at night, they knocked on the window. This was not so unusual, because my father was the head of the village council, so people came frequently. And then: “Open up!” My father opened the door to the house: “Well, what?” — “Get ready, you are going to the white bears.” Well, that was that, and we began to gather our things. My mother gathered — it was not like now, it was different — she gathered the bed linens, as much as we could carry in our arms. We gathered, we gathered, and they drove us out of the house, to the village council. Weren’t you in Verbylivtsi, you don’t know? They gathered us on the square near the village council. Ten families were deported from the village at that time. They deported us, and that was that. Vehicles arrived, and they took us. They drove us to the train station, to the railway. They loaded us, they loaded us onto the wagons and took us to Kolomiya. There in Kolomiya was a transfer station, where they gathered people, and after that they organized this mass of people into wagons. And on to Siberia. They took us then, but that’s not all, they [first] detained us here, they kept us a long time. We stayed in the police station from 16 December until 1 January 1950. And then they took us to Kolomiya, and there in Kolomiya we were in a camp until 15 February. They took us on Stritennia [Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple]. 15 February. And on 18 March we arrived in Khabarovsk. A month and three days! A month and three days we traveled in the wagon. I think there were 24 people in that wagon. The wagon was not one of the big ones, but a smaller one, a half-wagon. 24 people traveled together. When we arrived, they unloaded us — Khabarovsk Territory, Lazo district, Oborsky forest collective farm. Well, that was it. They drove us to the barrack, there were no houses. They settled us in the barrack. There were 48 of us, 48 people. There we lived for several years, we lived there three or four years, then construction began, with settlements maybe five kilometers from our camp. I went to the boss and asked him, and he gave us living quarters, two rooms and a kitchen. We lived there until 1959. Yes, yes, until 1959. In 1960 we came here.
[0:09:35] I: Did you work there?
[0:09:39] W: There? From the very first day and every following day.
[0:09:43] I: Did everyone work?
[0:09:45] W: Everyone. No, my mother did not work, only my father, brother and I. My mother was at home.
[0:09:54] I: What did you do?
[0:09:56] W: In the beginning I was the foreman, the men cut down the trees, I accepted this work — how many trees we cut down! There was an electric power station, a kind of portable power station that was moved around, and we cut down the trees. There were four connections and four electric saws. They divided it up; listen, what a forest — as far as the eye can see — they divided it into sections and marked them: first, second, third, fourth. Each one took on his section. The forest was around five hectares, no less than that, and we were cutting it down. Tractors came, picked up the trees. It’s too bad I don’t have a photograph. Oh, I would show you what kind of forest it was.
[0:11:56] I: Did they pay you there?
[0:11:58] W: They paid, regularly. After half a month passed, they gave an advance, and the second month — full payment. I can’t say that they didn’t pay — they paid us regularly. And beyond this they paid us for the longevity of service. We were required, I was required daily, every day, to harvest 500-600 cubic meters of coniferous trees. Well there isn’t any other kind there, only coniferous trees — cedar, cedar, pine.
[0:13:14] W: There was another friend of mind, from the village Zahvizdia. Do you know this village? You don’t know. Near Frankivsk, Zahvizdia. He died a year or two ago. We worked together all the time, he worked as a tree-cutter. Well I was not there long after that. I stayed maybe five years at this job. And from there they moved me to a different job — I was responsible for quality control, a craftsman cutting railroad ties. You know, how they cut the wooden ties for the railroad track? Master of tie-cutting. Well, these are the types of jobs I did, more or less. And they paid my wages regularly, I have no complaints about that. And they paid me in full. And they paid my family in full. How our boss [in the end] begged me, my father, my brother: “Stay, remain here.” We refused and went home.
[0:15:28] I: When you were in Siberia, how did you live, were you under guard?
[0:15:35] W: Yes, under guard. We had the right to travel 120 kilometers to Khabarovsk. In the first years — I did not have the right. Under guard, there was in fact such a guard, a Bolshevik one. They would gather us: I signed up that I want to go to Khabarovsk, so did someone else, and another. Well, however many there were, they gathered us up — five or six people to go to Khabarovsk. They said: “You must come here at this hour.” They took us, we got in the vehicle. They drove us there and: “Go on, wherever you need to go, but be back here at this hour.” I am not saying, that the guard was so terrible, no, but if something was not right, they would ask around and search for the guy.
[0:17:14] I: Did they behave badly toward you, beat you or interrogate you?
[0:17:20] W: No, no, no. Nobody bothered anyone. I can’t say anything like that. We arrived, they behaved politely with us and so on. And we in turn gave our labor, the cubic meters [of trees], and that was that. But still, they behaved very aggressively toward us. [They said]: “They are Banderovtsi, understand.” If something went wrong — they said “Banderovets”, and that was it. And we had to put up with that. It was like this for about five years. After the death of Stalin, it became a little easier, easier, easier, and it came to pass that by the time we left, they had returned everyone’s passports. Those who were there earlier got their passports back a year or two sooner, and then the rest of the people had their passports returned. So we were free. I don’t know if anyone stayed, I honestly wasn’t interested. There are people in Zahvizdia — there were a lot of them there — that I am still in touch with.
[0:19:34] I: Were you in the Soviet army there?
[0:19:42] W: They did not take our people in the army. Well, you know, we were “Banderivtsi.”
[0:19:49] I: No, sorry that’s not what I meant, I just asked this way. He wants to know, did you have any Russian friends there?
[0:20:00] W: Well, only work friends, there was no one else there, just the people you worked with. There were no concerts or anything like that. There was no social club, there was nothing. We only socialized when we were paid — drank 100 grams, quietly “to your health,” and that’s it. It was sad there, a sad life. Ten years went by and nothing to remember.
[0:21:08] I: Among those who were exiled, where were they from? From Ukraine, and also from elsewhere?
[0:21:15] W: No, there were only Ukrainians there, only Ukrainians. There was also a man named Miller, I have no idea how he got there, I didn’t ask, and he didn’t want to say. He was without documents. I remember his last name – Miller. There were no others like this, no, no. It was rare that there would be someone else, it was all our own people. There were some Belarusians.
[0:22:12] I: In the beginning, when you first arrived at these barracks, were they fenced in and was there a watch tower?
[0:22:19] W: No, no, no, it was open. We were free to move around. But understand that we were 60 kilometers from the town center. There was only one route — the railroad, and on this railroad they did inspect. But we were free to move around. From the very start, it was more or less like that, we were free, but we did not have the right to go anywhere. From the second outpost it was possible to hike over the mountain, to visit a friend or something. But we did not have the right to go to Khabarovsk. And later it was all open, and we had the right to go everywhere. But so what? People did not want to stay there. They left and went home. How they pleaded with us to stay, how that chief begged me, my brother and father. My father after this was a beekeeper. Well, all that’s past.
[0:24:25] I: When you were living in the barracks, how was it organized?
[0:24:32] W: In a normal way. It used to be a garage. There had been an order that people were arriving, but there was no place to put them. Tractors were used to clear some space. They installed two cast-iron stoves, two stoves in the middle, and plank-beds, the wooden kind. They put these all around. And they brought the people — 48 people, each settled in where he could. And my family, we were on the right, I remember, God, oh God, like it was today. And so we lived for three years. Three years. We were the first to leave the barrack, because I asked the chief, “Listen, give me living quarters, because I can’t live like this.” There you worked, you worked every day. If you didn’t go to work — well, tomorrow good luck to you — you were punished. For a half a year or three months your pay was cut by 25%. But you were not arrested, just your pay was cut and that was it.
[0:27:11] I: Your boss, was he a local person?
[0:27:15] W: He was a local, Russian.
[0:27:46] W: When they took you in 1946, who came to your house? When they came and said, “Get ready, they are sending you to the white bears.” Who was it?
[0:27:58] W: It was police and soldiers, there were maybe five or six. But there were a lot of them [in total], because there were ten families. And at that time a lot of our own people were agents, and informed on who to deport. Why did they take my father, when he was the head of the village council? Because he never informed on anyone. They were deporting people all around, but from our village they had deported no one. And after that they said to him: “No, you will be the first one,” and deported him.
[0:29:28] I: The police who came for you, who were they — Russians?
[0:29:35] W: Russians, they were all Russians. Yes, it was already Russians by then. It was none of our own people, it was all Russians.
[0:29:47] I: Where was the police station, in the same place as the village council?
[0:29:52] W: No, the police station in Rohatyn was where it is now, on the corner. At Halytskyi. There was the NVD, the police, and NHB, the other building was here near the regional commission, exactly there, perhaps you know it? On the other side — NHB, that was all political matters. NVD — that was civilian.
[0:30:57] I: In what year did you return here?
[0:31:01] W; We returned here in the month of April 1959. In the year 1959.
[0:31:24] I: And your house, what happened to it?
[0:31:28] W: They gave it to people whom they had relocated from Poland. They settled them in our house. When we arrived, we turned to them, will they give it back? “No, it was given to us.” So we rented a place, lived a while with some other people. We had a little money so we built ourselves a house there, in Verbylivtsi, by the church. We built it and so we lived. We lived there for two years, my mother, father, my brother who had gotten married while in Siberia. He stayed there [in Verbylivtsi], and when I got married I moved here to Rohatyn.
[0:33:18] I: Before the war, who lived in your village? What nationalities of people?
[0:33:26] W: Only Ukrainians, only Ukrainians. There was no one else — no Poles, no Jews, only Ukrainians.
[0:33:40] I: Did you go to school there, in your village?
[0:33:43] W: No, I only went for two grades, and after that my father transferred me here, to the city, for third and fourth grade, and so I went, until I was 20 years old. You know how it was — first the Russians, then the Germans, then the Russians again, for the second time. They pushed back education for one year. But in fact I did not complete school in Rohatyn, I went to college, and when they took me in December 1949, I only had six months left to finish. But I did not finish, because they took me and deported me. And that was it.
[0:35:24] I: In your first grades, was it a Polish school?
[0:35:28] W: Yes, a Polish school, Polish until 1939.
[0:35:34] I: In what language was school taught then?
[0:35:35] W: It was in Ukrainian, and in Polish also. And later Polish was dropped and it was Russian, in 1939 it was Russian. And then German. “Guten Tag. Danke schön,” and so on.
[0:36:20] I: When you attended school in Rohatyn, were there Jews in your class?
[0:36:26] W: No, there wasn’t anyone. There were no Jews. There were Russians. And there in school you had to really behave yourself very carefully, because if not, the matter would go all the way to the police, and they would accuse you of being against the Soviet Union. It was strict, strict. There were even instances where they made arrests, and took people away. The friends this happened are no longer alive. Of these, there are maybe one or two left.
[0:37:42] I: The Russian children who went to school with you, were these the children of Russian administrators, officials?
[0:37:50] W: Yes, yes, yes. Officials.
[0:37:55] I: This was already 1939, correct?
[0:37:57] W: Yes, yes. Officials. I would still see them around here until quite recently. But now they are no longer here. For years, they were here.
[0:38:22] I: Do you perhaps remember anything about the life of Jews before the war?
[0:38:28] W: Before the war? Well here — Jews occupied all the positions in Rohatyn. There no one who was not Jewish. The head of the city was not, I have forgotten who he was, I will remember. But all the rest — Jews. Trade was all Jewish, government — Jewish, everything absolutely everything. Here a Ukrainian did not have any say and had absolutely nothing, nothing; everything — Jewish. In the town everything was Jewish — the best buildings, shops and everything else, there was so much here. Some of these shops have already been torn down. They are no longer here, you can’t see. But it was all Jewish. Our people only worked in farming, cattle. Can you imagine, at that time there were so many cattle in the pastures, but now there isn’t even one. Not even one bit of land was left wild, but now do you see what is going on in the pastures? Empty, wild. But somehow people live. But it was all Jews, Jews who bought up the wheat, grain, they knew where to do this, that was their business. Listen, this is what they were involved in, and our guy had nothing, he got nothing from this. Oh well, it’s past, we missed out.
[0:41:00] I: Did you or your parents perhaps have any Jewish friends?
[0:41:05] W: No, no, no, no.
[0:41:06] I: Did you know any of the Jews here in Rohatyn?
[0:41:11] W: Did I know? Why would I not have known? They had many different names, but I can’t tell you any of their last names, I can’t. Here there was the first house from the bridge, then the second. “Fuli” — she had this nickname. “I am taking the grain to Fuli.” And there were others. Well, in a word, our people could not do anything here. And the Polish — but there were few Poles, few. But they took up these kinds of jobs. Whatever government there was, they were there.
[0:42:56] I: Was there a synagogue here? A Jewish place of worship?
[0:43:00] W: There was, there was.
[0:43:06] I: Where was it?
[0:43:09] W: It was, how to tell you… You know, the place where there was a firm, and later they turned it into a bakery? And there was also another one somewhere, wait, wait. In the center of town, in the center of town.
[0:43:25] I: So there was not just one, right?
[0:43:27] W: There was one, and there was a second somewhere also. I will remember. Yes, yes, the second one was by the church.
[0:43:33] I: What kind were they, wooden or brick?
[0:43:43] W: Brick, brick. After that they turned this church into a bakery. I remember. My friend was the shopkeeper and managed it. It is still there. But what is located there now, I have no idea.
[0:44:44] I: Do you recall how you found out in 1941 that the war had begun?
[0:44:46] W: Well in 1941, the same as we had in 1939. In 1941 Germans attacked the Russians. In 1941. Because in 1939, the Russians attacked Poland, they occupied us here. And later the Germans attacked the Russians. The Germans were here in 1939, 1940, 1941 and 1942, it seems. They were here four years, I think.
[0:45:24] I: 41, 42, 43.
[0:45:25] W: 1943. And in 1944 — the Russians attacked the Germans. On May 9, 1945 there was victory. Victory.
[0:45:35] I: How did you find out about that, that in 1941 the Germans attacked the Russians, and the war began?
[0:45:41] W: It was announced.
[0:45:44] I: Did you hear it on the radio?
[0:45:45] W: On the radio, on the radio you could hear it.
[0:46:17] I: And when in 1939 the Russians attacked Poland, were there battles here?
[0:46:21] W: Yes, yes. They were shooting, there were casualties. It was war. It was a cloud of Russians, they were invading. But later it was different.
[0:46:49] In 1939 was there bombing, were the Russians bombing?
[0:47:57] W: At that time there were no airplanes, no. No one was fighting overhead, there were only rifles.
[0:47:30] I: How were the Russian troops received here in 1939?
[0:47:48] W: In 1939, not especially, but listen, they did receive them. But as to welcoming them, I wouldn’t say so. I don’t know about that year particularly. But not very much, not much. People looked them over, the Russians, just like they did the Germans. The Germans came later, attacked the Jews, liquidated them, there was a mass of them. There was nothing for our people to do here. On this street there were a couple of families — one, two, three, but the rest — all Jews, all Jews. And they occupied all the government positions. A school, it’s true, we had one Ukrainian school and a secondary school.
[0:48:51] I: And under the Russians, were there also Jews everywhere?
[0:48:53] W: Yes. There was a school — Jews and Poles, it was all one school. Later they built the big school Number One in Babyntsi. That was already later, there were no Jews, there were no Poles. The Russians were here, and under the Russians they were building. There were Russian children and our children (Ukrainian).
[0:50:12] I: During the German occupation, did you go to school?
[0:50:16] W: Yes, I went, I liked it, I went to school the whole time. But it was like this, the transition from one to the other, and later they pushed the classes back, but I went. I had to go, there was no other choice.
[0:50:33] I: Who taught in the school during this time, were there teachers?
[0:50:38] W: Under the Germans, it was our own (Ukrainian) teachers. And there were also some who knew the German language, because German was required, it was taught. It was our own teachers, under the Germans. And then under the Russians, half of the teachers were Russian, half were Ukrainian. The directors were all Russian.
[0:51:40] I: When the war began, was your father mobilized?
[0:51:45] W: No, my father was not in the army. He was already at the age where he did not qualify. So under the Russians my father did not go because of age, and my brother hid himself. And he did not go in the army. But yes they took people, under guard — and off to the army. If someone was hiding or something, he was arrested and that was it — 25 years.
[0:52:52] I: Was your father mobilized in the Polish army?
[0:52:56] W: My father was not in the army. He was in the Austrian army, in the Austrian.
[0:53:05] I: In what year was he born?
[0:53:07] W: In 1895. He died in 1975. He lived 80 years, thank God. We had a lot of young men here. When the Germans began to retreat, they all went off with the German army. In the SS, do you remember this? [Witness is probably referring to the 14th Galician Waffen-SS Division.] Many young men left, so there was no one left to go into the Russian army. So they took everyone up to 50 years old, they took them and good luck.
[0:54:29] I: Was there a mobilization point here, where young men were supposed to report, in order to join the German army?
[0:54:38] W: Yes, yes. There was such a military station over there. There was, yes, such a point, where they reported and so on.
[0:54:57] I: Did you know anyone who went there and joined the German army? Someone among your classmates or friends?
[0:55:07] W: I know all of them, all. Somewhere I have a list of them.
[0:55:15] I: What led them, why did they join the German army?
[0:55:22] W: Well, listen, this was the mission, to go help fight against the Russians. They took them there. And after that, when they saw that it was coming to nothing — then they scattered, each as they could. Now these young men who went into the army are in England, in France, in Australia, all over the world. They are gone. Occasionally they come here, but there are few of them. It’s been many years. Some of them were killed, and the rest are all over the world, none of them ever returned home. They left — and didn’t return.
[0:56:55] I: Among the people around you, were there those who went with the partisans, the nationalists, the Banderites?
[0:57:08] W: Afterwards the UIA was organized here, the organization known as UIA — the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which fought against the Soviet Union. But they were suppressing it. If someone was caught, they gave him no less than 15, 20, 25 years.
[0:57:35] I: The Russians?
[0:57:36] W: The Russians.
[0:57:37] I: And under the Germans?
[0:57:38] W: Under the Germans there was no one, nobody who bothered the Germans. They went about their business, did their work and so on. They organized a Ukrainian police force here, there were a couple of guys who were in the police. But this was not a massive thing, just temporary. But under the Russians there was the constant fear of God. Every day they raided villages and searched for people who had not gone into the army. Then later, there were very many cases where people were arrested.
[0:59:19] I: Under the Germans, were there Ukrainians who were shot or arrested?
[0:59:25] W: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. There were such organizations here, which were against the Germans. And the authorities were on the lookout for this. This incident happened on 13 December 1943. Near the church, behind the wall, there was a brick wall. The Germans brought 24 people, not from Rohatyn, but from Berezhany, from those villages. I remember, we children were coming from school, I was in 5th or 6th grade, I can’t say exactly. We were walking home, and by the church — do you know Rohatyn? In the center of town, where the church is, there is a monument to Roksolana, in the square. They surrounded it with soldiers, and were herding all the people in the direction of the church, into this street. They were herding everyone. And then — what’s going on, what’s going to happen? A vehicle arrived, a large truck, and they began to unload people. Some people they threw off, others however they could. They lined them up in rows, not all of them at the same time, but in two groups. They lined them up. There were 24 men. They were all from the Berezhany region, from the Ternopil oblast. And then they put the Germans, who had rifles, at 10-15 meters distance, maybe not even that. The command was given, and they killed them — first round. And then the commander spoke these words, which I will never forget: “Ab acht” — “once again”. The second round. Now bring the next ones. We children scattered in all directions, running as fast as we could, not toward the center of town, but into the valley, beyond the river and then home. I arrived at home so terrified, my mother and father asked: “What is wrong with you?”, and I told the story of how the people were shot. This was on 13 December, the feast of St. Andrew, our holiday — and they executed 24 people. The families of these people come frequently to Rohatyn these days. There is a monument to them at the cemetery in the far corner. They are buried there. May they rest with God.
[1:05:15] I: They were later buried in the cemetery?
[1:05:19] W: Yes. They took them from there and buried them in the cemetery. They put up a monument for them. Everything was done by the book.
[1:05:38] I: Who buried them, the Germans or someone else?
[1:05:41] W: What Germans? It was the people, they gathered the bodies and carried them out.
[1:05:51] I: Were you there when they were buried?
[1:05:52] W: No, I was not there when they were buried, I was not there. But I knew where, in what place, and every time I am in the cemetery – I am near them. I was 15 years old then, what could I do?
[1:06:28] I: They burned them in a common grave?
[1:06:31] W: Yes. In a common grave.
[1:06:37] I: These men, about how old were they?
[1:06:41] W: These people? Normal ages, 30-40-50 years old, like that.
[1:06:49] I: Why were they executed?
[1:06:52] W: Because they were against the German regime, they didn’t go along. And these people [Germans] took them. I don’t know exactly, because there was no one from the Rohatyn region among them, they were people from Berezhany and some others. Vorobets who brought you here, he knows their story. He knows the whole history from A to Z. And when people come here, they go only to him with these questions. He knows the name of every person and the rest.
[1:08:09] I: Before they were shot, did someone say anything to them, did they say why, did anyone speak?
[1:08:18] W: Nothing, no reasons, why or for what, they only read their last names. And they all stepped into line. Their last names. There were 24 of them. And afterwards, that was it. “Ach acht” and a second time. When we saw what was happening — scram, everybody ran away any way he could. Then the Gmina came together, it was not the town council, it was called the Gmina. They took away these people, they dug the grave and buried them there. God, the inhumanity, but this was what it was like then. They are there, they made them a grave. A monument and everything, they did everything.
[1:09:56] I: And this wall, where they shot them?
[1:10:00] W: There was a building here, it has collapsed. It is no longer there, just the space. I know where it is, behind the church, in the center of town, perhaps 10 meters behind the church. On the opposite side there is the school, it is on the other side from the school.
[1:10:29] I: Is there a marker there?
[1:10:30] W: There is, a monument was erected. There is a monument. On the church wall there is a memorial plaque: “Here perished people . . . ”
[1:10:47] I: When they were shot, there were 12 of them and 12 Germans who shot them? Each shot one, or . . . ?
[1:10:57] W: They lined them up once, and then a second time.
[1:11:01] I: No, how many of them were doing the shooting?
[1:11:03] W: Oh, there was a bunch of them.
[1:11:07] I: For each victim?
[1:11:09] W: Yes, there was a lot of them. They were herding us in that direction, we were thinking, what is going on? We were still students, but there were also grown men there, but listen, nobody was walking around town. They gathered up the people, and later when they started shooting — we just ran away.
[1:11:33] I: And they shot with . . .?
[1:11:34] W: With rifles. And they stood 10 to 15 meters away.
[1:11:44] And those who were killed, did they say anything, did they shout something, before they were shot, nothing?
[1:11:52] W: Nothing, it was quiet, calm. We did not know what was going on, what made them do this. But the one with the rifles gave the command and “Pookh.” It is terrible to speak of, no doubt about it. Terrible to speak of. Such a thing.
[1:13:04] I: And the Jews, when the Germans first arrived, did they live in their own houses, their own homes?
[1:13:11] W: Yes, yes. And in the villages, everywhere.
[1:13:13] I: Well, there where they lived, they continued to live. They were not bothered in the beginning?
[1:13:18] W: In the beginning. But later they rounded them all up in one group. There, where the church is, you saw, where our church is, and this territory, and near the center, all around, all the way to the river, from the river to the hospital — this was the territory. They moved our people out of their houses and put them [the Jews] there. And there they were. And later they carried out one aktion, then a second and third. They carried out three aktions and the Jews were no more.
[1:13:59] I: When was this? When did they execute the first aktion? No, when did they gather them all together? As soon as they arrived?
[1:14:11] W: No, no, it was much later. The Germans came in the summer, and this was in the fall, I remember, and they created the ghetto. They herded them all together.
[1:14:27] I: But it was in the same year, as when they arrived?
[1:14:30] W: Yes. They drove them together, everything was going quietly, calmly. We wondered — what is this? And afterwards they took them all at once and removed them. Whoever could, ran way, hid, some remained. This was three thousand, it seems, all at once. Three thousand people. There is the grave mound there. They were going while the Germans were still here, they were going to dig this grave. They dug it for themselves. They knew, certainly, that they were digging it for themselves. And so large, it was bigger than our house.
[1:16:24] I: Was the ghetto fenced?
[1:16:28] W: Well, it wasn’t fenced as such, but the territory was marked.
[1:16:38] I: And it was forbidden to enter there?
[1:16:48] W: You could not enter there and you could not leave there.
[1:16:54] I: Who guarded it?
[1:16:58] W: The Germans. Nobody went out of there.
[1:17:05] I: Did you go near the ghetto?
[1:17:08] W: Well why would I go there, there was nothing for me to do there. It was in the center of town, so I knew what it was, these buildings were alongside, the Jews were there — there was no reason to poke my nose there. It was forbidden. It was forbidden to either enter or exit.
[1:17:45] I: But even before the aktions began, did you witness any scenes of cruelty or violence?
[1:17:56] W: There was no violence, those in charge on that day drive everyone out, took them, and loaded them onto the truck. Like chickens or something. It simply boggles the mind.
[1:18:14] I: Did they beat them there?
[1:18:15] W: They beat them, yes, shot them, beat them. It was terrifying. They needed to run away.
[1:18:43] I: Did you see where the first aktion took place?
[1:18:49] W: It took place in the center of town, where the Roksolana statue is, they were herding them there. They loaded them onto the trucks and drove them to the cemetery outside of town, by Babyntsi. They had dug a pit for the Jews and were shooting them there.
[1:19:45] I: What did you see of all this, of these aktions? Did you see how they were being driven together, how they were loaded onto the trucks? What did you see?
[1:19:54] W: Yes, yes. Like cattle, pardon the expression, they were mistreating them. They were grabbing them all, throwing them.
[1:20:06] I: How? Did they enter the house, and drive them out?
[1:20:09] W: Yes.
[1:20:10] I: You saw this? Because we are interested in what you yourself witnessed.
[1:20:14] W: No, I personally don’t know, but the fact is that I saw people here in the territory. And where did they come from? They were driving them out from there. They drove them out of their houses, to here. Whoever could hide, hid himself. Whoever could, ran away, but those who ran were shot. And that was it. The first time they took a number of people, the second time fewer, and the third time they took whoever remained. And that was the end — the ghetto as such was gone. They distributed the houses to the people. The end.
[1:22:01] I: When was the first aktion? In what year?
[1:22:06] W: I do not remember the dates of all of them. I only remember it was on 13 December for our people [Ukrainians]. It seems it was in the fall, but I don’t remember. Around November – December.
[1:22:26:] I: Was it in the same year as the Germans arrived, or the next year?
[1:22:29] W: The next. The first year, they were still here, the Jews were still here more or less. And later when they rounded them up, they were in the villages. And they gathered them all into the ghetto here.
[1:22:46] I: When the first aktion took place, did the ghetto already exist?
[1:22:50] W: Yes.
[1:23:24] I: When you saw that the the Jews had been gathered on the square, did they have any belongings with them?
[1:23:30] W: No one had anything. Empty-handed.
[1:23:39] I: When they led them from the ghetto to the square, were they in columns, or . . .?
[1:23:46] W: Yes, like cattle.
[1:23:51] I: Did they lead them one by one?
[1:23:53] W: Where? They were herding them into the square. Then they loaded them up and drove them here, and killed them.
[1:24:02] I: How did they herd them?
[1:24:04] W: Every which way, with dogs, every way they could, like animals. What can you say, there is nothing to say. They treated them cruelly.
[1:24:38] І: And these German who gathered the Jews, and later drove them out, were they locals or did they come from elsewhere?
[1:24:45] W: Who, the Germans? They were from elsewhere, what Germans were here? They were foreigners.
[1:24:52] І: Did they live here in the town?
[1:24:54] W: What, live here? They brought in some kind of gang. How many Germans were here, maybe 10 to 20 in Rohatyn. But this was a big group, an army they gathered here. Listen, leave this subject already. Didn’t the Russians do the same thing to us? The Germans by day, the Russians by night. What was the difference?
1:25:58] І: When they were gathering the Jews, did the Germans have dogs?
[1:26:02] W: They had everything.
[1:26:10] І: What was the color of the German uniforms at that time?
[1:26:19] W: They dressed in black, in black.
[1:26:24] І: On the square, how many vehicles were there?
[1:26:28] W: These were trucks, they loaded 2-3 trucks, then unloaded the truck and returned. There were no cars, like now. What, were there cars anywhere around here then?
[1:26:56] І: And the cemetery by Babyntsi, is this a Jewish cemetery?
[1:27:01] W: No, they buried them in our cemetery. The Jewish cemetery is here in the center, on the hill, but they removed all the gravestones and . . . erected one, yes. And their new cemetery, and monument, is outside of town, by the stadium. They were allocated a plot there, and began to bury their dead. Well, it was time. There are very few of them there. The cemetery is not large. But there had been a large one, with one gravestone after the next, tall, made of stone. Later the Germans took these gravestones and made them into sidewalks. They built sidewalks, roads. Even up to this day, no one builds there, the cemetery stands.
[1:29:07] І: Before or after the shooting, did you see the pit?
[1:29:13] W: No, I did not go there. It was frightening to go there, you understand. And I also heard that after that some kind of lime was used. They filled the pit, poured in the lime, leveled it with a bulldozer . . . And now I have been there. I looked. Well, what is there. The ground stands even, and that’s all. I didn’t need to go there, it was not convenient. But they treated them barbarically.
[1:30:16] І: Is there a monument there now?
[1:30:18] W: Yes, a monument.
[1:30:24] І: On that day, when they were shooting them, did you hear the shots?
[1:30:27] W: How could you not hear? I saw it, they did everything in broad daylight. They took people there and they shot them. But they did not allow anyone to go near there. It was far away then, but now it is closer.
[1:30:58] І: Could you hear what kind of shots were fired, one after the next, or single shots?
[1:31:03] W: Single shots. There were no machine guns then. It was single shots.
[1:31:12] І: And the distance between the square and where they were shot, was it a great distance? How many kilometers?
[1:31:30] W: A great distance. About half a kilometer. There was still a cemetery, but now that cemetery is no more.
[1:32:05] І: And these other actions, did you see something?
[1:32:09] W: Well, what I saw the first time, I also saw the second and third. They gathered and liquidated them all.
[1:32:17] І: And again you saw them only on the square?
[1:32:20] W: Yes. And that was it, they were no more. Then the city council took over their houses, and resettled people. Many people from the villages came here.
[1:32:52] І: You only saw when they had been gathered up on the square?
[1:32:58] W: Yes.
[1:32:59] І: And did not see, how they were gathered?
[1:33:04] W: I was not there. But I have an idea that they behaved toward them, as the Russians said, “like animals.”
[1:33:35] І: Where did the second and third actions take place?
[1:33:38] W: There.
[1:33:39] І: The same place?
[1:33:40] W: The same place. They gathered them here, drove them there, and shot them there.
[1:34:13] І: When you went back to school, after the first aktion had happened, and the second, did you speak in school about what you had seen?
[1:34:21] W: Well what could I say? Everyone saw and knew this story, it was terrifying. It was impossible to get into your head what was happening. No one had ever seen such a strange thing, this killing of living human beings. From such a child . . .
[1:35:00] І: Your schoolteachers did not say anything to you about what was happening?
[1:36:05] W: No, no, no. On this subject, no one said anything. Everyone knew and everyone saw, what was going on there.
[1:35:23] І: All the Jews in Rohatyn were shot here? They did not take them elsewhere?
[1:35:30] W: All. No.
[1:35:40] І: Do you know, how the houses were allocated afterwards?
[1:35:46] W: No, no, I do not know. They distributed them, listen, distributed them to people. They gave the houses to the [new] owners, because they had relocated them here from other places, as I said. Then they gave them the houses, those who had come here. They opened a school there below.
[1:36:56] І: What did your father do during the the German occupation?
[1:37:04] W: He was engaged in farming. He had cows and horses.
[1:37:14] І: He became head of the village council later?
[1:37:17] W: Later, in Soviet times. After the Germans left, he was then voted head of the village council. And so he was from the start until 14 December 1949. But since he did not prove acceptable to the authorities, they said, “Ok, man, you will go where the white bears are.”
[1:38:06] І: When the Germans were retreating, when the liberation was taking place, were there battles here?
[1:38:15] W: They were driving them out, these ones [Germans] were fleeing, and the others [Soviets] were advancing.
[1:38:20] І: But there were no battles?
[1:38:21] W: There were no battles. No, there were, excuse me. There were such encounters. There in Verbylivtsi, there is a village, and there was a tank there. Perhaps it had broken down, and they left it. When the Germans were fleeing, they set the tank on fire. And once it started up, there was probably ammunition inside, when it began to shoot, then everything was set on fire, house, buildings. Everything was burned down. Burned. Yes it was, it was, it was. It was not just us who were burned out, the entire street burned.
[1:40:05] І: Thank you. Tell me, may we share what you have told us with students, historians, and generally, with all who are interested?
[1:40:09] W: You may. Yes, yes, yes. You may.
Ukrainian-language transcription: Marta Panas-Bespalova
English-language translation: Mary Kalyna
Text © 2016 Yahad – In Unum.
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