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The Germans planned the annihilation of the Jews in a small Polish town of Nesvizh (today it is in Belarus) for 21 July, 1942. Some Jewish community leaders had presentiment of that, since a similar campaign was carried out on 17 July in a neighbouring town. In October 1941, the massacres of Jews took place in these regions, so the people decided to put up an armed resistance to the Nazis.

On the morning of 21 July a punitive German detachment drove up to the gates of the ghetto. The senior officer ordered all the Jews to gather in the square immediately to be taken away from the town. But the people knew that it meant an imminent merciless shooting. Having decided that it’s better to die in the fight than to bow the neck to the invaders, the Ghetto Board refused to obey the order. Shalom Kholavsky, the head of the armed resistance, remembers the further events.

The Germans opened fire. Fighters from the synagogue returned fire. When the fascists smashed in the ghetto, the Jews withstood the attack with knives and steel rods in their hands. They fought a losing battle. The streets were full of the killed and wounded. The ghetto residents had agreed to set fire to their houses in order to escape later under cover of smoke and fire. Chaos and confusion seized the centre of the town. Crowds of neighboring peasants and locals rushed into the ghetto, breaking into burning houses, grabbing clothes, lamps, crockery... Filled with cold rage, the Germans shot on sight anyone who tried to run out of the blazing ghetto. Kholavsky and his two fellow-fighters hid in the attic of some house, waiting for the moment to escape. From the attic window they could see crowds of people carrying what they had plundered. At every successful shot of the Germans these people jumped and cried out exultantly. It didn’t matter who was shot dead – a man, a woman, or a child…

The moment came and Kholavsky and his fellows ran across the field to the woods. When escaping, he saw Simha Rotsen with his small son hidden in a pillow in his hands run out of the ghetto. Running past a peasant woman standing near the gate and watching the scene, Simha thrust the bundle with the baby into her hands and rushed further to the woods.

Shalom Kholavsky describes the criminals, victims and bystanders very well. The criminals are the punitive German detachment. The German military statistics say that such detachments annihilated a million and a half Jews in total on the territory of Poland, the Baltic countries and Soviet republics. The victims are the ghetto residents, the people who did their utmost not to become victims. They made plans, prayed, opposed the enemy, fought, died and escaped death. The bystanders are the non-Jewish population of Nesvizh, the people who plundered, jumped and cried out exultantly when another Jew was killed, and that peasant woman who Simha Rotsen gave his infant child.

What did she do with the child? Kholavsky says nothing about that. Did the woman manage to hide the boy? Did she consider it a must to save the child at all? Might she have decided to stay away from it all and just put the bundle on the ground where she stood abandoning the child to his fate? Or did she give it to a German soldier and watch how he took the baby by his legs and crashed his head against the wall (the usual way the Nazis dealt with the children of Jewish subhuman parasites)? We’ll never know the truth. The only true fact is that Simha’s child would never have survived but for the help of that peasant woman.

Millions of Europeans had to make a choice, like that woman from Nesvizh, and millions of lives depended on their choice. The Righteous among the nations saw one and the only acceptable choice which was to do everything possible to save a human. By saving one life they saved the whole world, and it was said long ago that Righteousness is the foundation of the world.

Yevgeny Berkovich

Jewish settlements in Minsk region

MinskBerezinoBobrBorisov DolginovoDukoraDzerzhinsk Ivenets Myadel NesvizhObchuga Pogost Rakov Seliba Slutsk Svir Uhvaly Vileika

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