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In order to feed the family, Yakov’s father tried to earn his living by mending people’s shoes at nights. He worked with the light of an oil lamp. We were allowed to have only one electric lamp. It was placed in the room where children could do their homework. Not long before the war we were allowed to have a second one. Right before the war we got a radio. Everyone was listening to it with their mouths open.

Yakov would bring water from the river – he could not even imagine existence of such a thing as central water supply at home! He watered the plants. He finished seven forms at a Jewish school, which was then closed. He then studied one year at a Belarusian school and one more – in a Russian one. Then the synagogue was closed “at the request of the Jews”.

…Father did not go to work that day. He heard about the war on the radio. The following day he was drafted to the battlefront. Mother was left with the children.

There was a military airport not far from Beshenkovichi. The German aviation bombed all the planes; only one managed to take off before the bombing.

The local authorities escaped. There was no evacuation.

We took the basic things and started walking towards Orsha. We only walked about twenty kilometers and reached a village called Rubezh. There we were met by the local peasants who started tearing our suitcases from our hands. We found out that a neighboring village had already been occupied by the Nazis. We had nothing else to do but come back to Beshenkovichi. All the Jews were forced into a ghetto, several families in every house. Every day the ghetto residents had to come to the park, where the Germans were selecting people for work. A German soldier, who was picking the people, had a stick with a bottle at the tip. He was hitting the people on the back, saying: “Jude! Jude!” The people were shot for no reason, just for entertainment.

At first the ghetto was not guarded and there was a chance to leave. However, Yakov could not leave his family. All the ghettos in the neighboring villages had been exterminated. The people who were lucky to escape the horrible death, came to Beshenkovichi in hopes that there it would be different. Everyone was starving and still the people were fasting on Yom Kippur. Then there was February 11th, 1942. On that morning Yakov did not go to the park for the general assembly – he made up his mind to make a trip to the village and ask the locals for some food. He saw a group of Germans passing by. Then he heard people screaming. One of the neighbors dashed out of this house shouting: “Run everyone!”

The Nazis were pushing the people out of their houses. It was a really cold day. There was screaming, crying, prayers and curses in the air. It’s impossible to forget the sight. Mother and sisters ran out. What was there to do? Yakov dashed to the river, and hid himself under the bridge. He could hear the eerie shouting. A woman with a small girl came to the spot where Yakov was hiding. The girl had only one boot on – the other foot was bare. Yakov crawled out and helped her pick up the other boot. Above them, on the bridge, the Jews were being convoyed to the execution. Late at night they tried to find lodging, but everyone was scared to let them in. Yakov went to his friend Zhenia Karas’ place: “Hide me!” – “I can’t”. He lied that Germans came to see his sister. (After the war his sister asked Yakov to write a letter that her brother had saved a Jew. Yakov did not respond). Then he went to try his luck at the houses where his father’s acquaintances lived. At some places they told him to leave, at some he was given food. But everyone was too scared to let him stay. Only old Ostap let him in and gave him some clothes.

Yakov decided to move in the direction of the battlefront. He spent nights in bath houses or hid himself in hay heaps. At one house he told the hosts his story and they advised him to pretend he was Azerbaijani. Thus he invented a story and tried to get rid of his accent. Then he met a Russian army soldier in Nevel woods. He was dressed in a uniform and, therefore, could not go into villages. So, Yakov went to ask locals for food and the soldier was waiting for him. So they spent some time together until someone reported them to the Nazis. In the morning they were woken up by shooting: “Hands up! Come out! Are you a Jew?” – “No, Azerbaijani!”

He was taken to Nevel, which was occupied by Germans, and beat him up. “Are you a partisan? Where is your detachment?” It turned out that the Nazi poliecemen gave them in as partisans - they were paid more money for partisans. Yakov told them his invented story. The interrogation was held in Russian. It seemed the interrogator believed him but then he suddenly asked him to write his name in Azerbaijani. What could he do? He decided to write it in Yiddish. How could a German know Yiddish? So he wrote. This German, maybe one of the million, knew Yiddish! Not the oral Yiddish (it wouldn’t be surprising), but the written! Everything over in a moment. The German said he had learnt Yiddish on purpose, to catch Jews – and there was such luck for him.

He was then taken to prison. There were five people in the room, including his acquaintance soldier. Yakov inquired if there was a chance to escape. They remained silent. Four days later they were given spades and convoyed to the spot where Jews had been shot the day before.

There were so many dead bodies in the huge ditch and around it – old people, women, children… They were made to put the bodies into the ditch. Then they were taken to a shrub and told: “Now dig here!” It was clear they were digging a grave for themselves. There was only one thought: “I need to escape!” Yakov untied his shoes and took of the coat, pretending he was hot – this way it would be easier to run. The ditch was ready. The policemen ordered them to come out of it. Yakov intuitively came out last and hit the closest policeman with a spade as hard as he could. Then he dashed into the shrubs. He heard shooting behind but he did not stop. When he turned back for a second he saw a policeman running after him and shooting. Yakov was lucky. He spent the night in the shrubs, shaking with cold. In the morning he started to find a house to hide himself at, but nobody let him in – they had heard that someone had escaped and knew that the policemen would be searching the houses. So he started his wandering again. Some people gave him clothes. At one point he met a teenager, Valentin Barygin. He was blond and therefore people gave him food more willingly. Then they were caught by the policemen. They let Valia go at once and said to Yakov: “You, Gypsy, will come with us.” He knew that Gypsies were shot just as Jews, so there was nothing to hope for. He managed to escape but lost trace of Barygin.

Not far from Velikie Luki he was caught again and taken to a house filled with Nazi policemen. He told them the invented story. Unexpectedly one of them advised him: “There are a lot of Germans here. Make sure they don’t see you!” And they let him go!

In one of the villages he was told that Russian soldiers had passed not long before and would soon be coming back. Thus he joined the soldiers and crossed the battle front. First he was given food and then narrated his story. The commander said it was hard to believe how much the boy had gone through.

However, they also interrogated him. It was suspicious that a Jewish boy could have survived. Thus he remained with the Russian army. Food was scarce and most of the time he remained hungry. Yakov was wounded in one of the battles and when he was brought to hospital, the doctor was shocked at how skinny he was.

Later he found his uncle, who informed him that his father had been wounded, but survived. He was living in Fergana. So Yakov headed there. He approached a shoemaker’s and saw his father. He had been certain his family had been dead. He raised his head and saw the son standing in the door.

Yakov Markovich Genin, born in 1925, was a participant of the Great Patriotic war and was given numerous medals for his courageous deeds.

He has been living in Israel since 1990.

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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