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Arkady Shulman

Joseph Brumin


My father and mother were born in 1989 and 1903 in a place called Babinovichi in Liozno region. They got married there in 1929 and then moved to Vitebsk.

Haeta and Hanon Dvoskin. Photo taken in 1938.
Haeta and Hanon Dvoskin. Photo taken in 1938.

Before the war my mother’s parents, Haeta and Hanon Dvoskin, continued living in Babinovichi. My grandfather died approximately in 1918, leaving a family of seven children to the elder son, my father Moisey.

While a child, I visited my grandparents in Liozno several times. I enjoyed travelling there: we had to take a train and then ride on a horse carriage. We would often travel at night, through a thick pine forest, sometimes in the rain.

I can very well remember the local pine forest, the lakes, the clear light sand and the rivers. It was a quiet place, where Belarusians, Lithuanians, Poles and, of course, Jews, lived peacefully together. I never heard my parents mention any conflicts among them.

I also remember visiting the local potter and my excitement when I saw a new pot appear in his hands. I also enjoyed Saturday shopping with my grandfather, when he let me buy the basic things myself and then carry them home.

Vitebsk was first bombed on June 24th, 1941. First only the strategic points were bombed, including the train depot. My father brought home a piece of the German bomb – a dreadful fragment of torn metal. Endless Soviet troops, which were passing the city, later showed to be ineffective – they were either killed or captured.

The first idea that my parents had was to send me and my brother (we were 11 and 6 respectively) to Babinovichi – away from trouble. I do not remember why they decided not to…

On July 3rd, an evacuation echelon for the families of railroad employees was formed. Our family, together with our relatives, who did not have a slightest connection to the railroad, packed our things in haste and set off.

Our grandparents from Babinovichi refused to leave. They must have had no fear of the Germans. During the First World War their elder sons Boris and Grisha were drafted to the Army. They were both captured and later came back home safe and sound, even with some savings. It was impossible to imagine that the whole German nation could go through such drastic changes in only 25 years.

The Brumins’ smithy stood on the outskirts to the left. Photo taken in 1971.
The Brumins’ smithy stood on the outskirts to the left. Photo taken in 1971.

We did not experience the German invasion, but the life in a small steppe town was truly exhausting. At the end of 1941 my father and his brother Yakov were drafted to the Army and sent to the battlefront, without any training and ammunition. My mother became seriously ill and was sent to a camp fever barracks. We, two children, were starving and had no constant place to live.

When I was 14, I quit school and went to work and was trained as a motorist. At 20 I was drafted to the Army and spent 5 years at the fleet. I can say that the time I spent there, taught me quite a lot. I became an adult.

The years passed… My father came from war as a disabled veteran. My uncle Yakov was killed. Meanwhile, I received my education, started a family and became used to living in the new place. However, my memories of Vitebsk never left my heart. In 1971 I made up my mind to visit both Vitebsk and Babinovichi. I, together with my father’s brother and sister, set off...

What we saw was painful. We could recognize nothing except for the nature. The place was burnt down in the war years. There was a mass grave at the place where a Catholic church used to stand. I do not remember the exact number of burial places, but it seems to me there are eight. Each of them has about a dozen names. Hundreds of the victims were not identified…

The Dvoskins’ house stood on the right, close to the brick building.
The burial site is nearby. Photo taken in 1971.
The Dvoskins’ house stood on the right, close to the brick building.
The burial site is nearby. Photo taken in 1971.

My uncle met a local resident, an acquaintance of his. This person related to us that my grandfather, together with other Jews, had been taken by the policemen to the village outskirts and shot. It seems that my grandmother had been walking from village to village, begging for food, and died soon…

Belarus is known to have had a rather strong partisan movement. It is odd to realize that the same nation could also have so many Nazi policemen.

I was standing on the bank of the Luchesa looking at the forest, the river, the golden sand and the clear sky. Here, at this place, these people were made to sacrifice their lives only because they had been born Jewish… And they were not the only ones.

Once, while surfing the Internet, I found the following information, titled “Place for a memorial’. It contained a story told by Maria Troyanovskaya: “On July 21st Babinovichi was bombed. There were fires and half of the city was burnt down. Haya and Hanon Dvoskin died in the fire. When their house caught fire, they tried to carry some things out of the building ,and died.” This is how I found out how they had died. Then I found out that their son Afroim had been shot by the Nazi policemen. He had been murdered together with his wife and daughter.

That dreadful war does not leave my memory, the soul, and life. Is it possible to relieve this pain? I decided to go to a synagogue hoping it would help. Rabbi Shlomo met me and invited me to the synagogue on Yom Kippur… I was reading the great lines and remembering the things I had heard from grandfather Hanon in my childhood. I heard the wonderful ancient melody and the sounds of the language that came alive from the past. I became acquainted with the prayer ritual and perceived it not as the moaning of the defeated, but as a call from the undefeatable and unyielding nation.

Joseph Brumin,
Professor, Samara agricultural academy,
Member of Journalists’ Union of the Russian Federation

Jewish settlements in Vitebsk region

Vitebsk Albrehtovo Babinovichi Baran Bayevo Begoml Beshenkovichi Bocheikovo Bogushevsk Borkovichi Braslav Bychiha Chashniki Disna Dobromysli Dokshitsy Druya Dubrovno Glubokoye Gorodok Kamen Kohanovo Kolyshki Kopys Krasnopolie Kublichi Lepel Liady Liozno Lukoml Luzhki Lyntupy Miory Obol Oboltsy Orsha Osintorf Ostrovno Parafianovo Plissa Polotsk Prozorki Senno Sharkovshina Shumilino Sirotino Slaveni Smolyany Surazh Tolochin Ulla Verhnedvinsk Vidzy Volyntsy Yanovichi Yezerishe Zhary Ziabki

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