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Arkady Shulman


When the Great Patriotic War broke out, Leonid Soroka was 8 years old. But he says he remembers both the last pre-war year and war days. His memories are not other people’s stories, although, something may have been taken from them.

Leonid Georgievich was born and spent his childhood in Slutsk.

- There were many Jews among my childhood friends and neighbors. Although, at that time it was unlikely that I didn’t think about it, and I even guessed. Slutsk was a small town.

My father, Georgy Yemelianovich Besoroka, worked as a builder. He was a highly skilled master. In 1934, the editorial board of “Izvestia” newspaper awarded him a watch engraved with his name. The watch is kept in Leonid Georgievich’s house as a memory.

Before the war Georgy Yemelianovich constructed an airfield for the Red Army air force in Zhabinka (Gomel region)

The house where the family lived in Slutsk was destroyed by the German air force during the first bombing of the city. Thank God, the family survived. Mother Neonila Georgievna and two children went to her parents to the Belichi village, not far from Slutsk. Some time later Georgy Yemelianovich returned to the village.

The Germans gave him the work of cutting firewood for the army. They gave him a small house in Slutsk. It was located literally in a hundred and fifty meters from the ghetto.

Leonid Georgievich told me:

- Now I understand that this house must have been inhabited by Jews before the war, and when they were forced into the ghetto, the empty houses were given to homeless workers.

Leonid and his mother lived in the village. But one day his grandfather went to Slutsk and took him and his brother to their father.

There were frosty days. They sledged.

In Slutsk Leonid Soroka witnessed the events that indelibly impressed on his memory, made him change his view of life. Here is our talk with Leonid Georgievich.

- Now I understand that at first there were rumors that people would be taken from the ghetto to a new location. That was the explanation given to them. The people got into trucks, taking no things, thinking they would settle in a new place and return to get their belongings. The German canvas-covered trucks arrived. The people climbed into them, some of them with children, and sat down. It was quiet for a while. About two hours passed. But when they saw the trucks come back quickly, they suspected that something was wrong and started panicking. They began talking that the prisoners were being taken to Bezverhovichi.

- For shooting?

- For shooting. I saw people running away from the trucks. I saw the policemen drag them back to the trucks. The prisoners fought back and struggled as they could. It gets dark early in winter, and the prisoners refused to leave their homes at all, and the shooting started. The firefight came from the ghetto. It is difficult to verify now. Someone says that ammunition exploded in the ghetto.

(How did ammunition turn out to be in the ghetto? It was unlikely that the Germans built a depot. Thus, the weapons were hidden by the prisoners. Anyway, it was the beginning of the organized resistance, - A. Shulman)

The roar came from both sides. Someone says that it was the prisoners who set fire to the ghetto, others say that it caught fire during the firefight. There were wooden houses there. Everything was burning. It got very scary by the evening.

- Did you see that all yourself?

- I saw that all. The fire was literally next to me. We looked at it from behind the fence. And so it went on all night.

Everything burnt down the next day. The entire city center, from Proletarskaya to Uritsky street. It was a frosty, sunny day. My elder brother, who’s three years older than me, and his age mates tried to get there, but they were sent away. There were policemen, I don’t remember gendarmes, but there were policemen. The wooden houses had basements or cellars.

Evidently, people, were hiding there from the fire. The policemen opened the cellars, basements, unleashed bursts of automatic gunfire and threw grenades. And so they went on.

By the end of the second day it was quiet around.

(According to other sources the fire lasted for three days - A. Shulman)

It was winter, everything got frozen. I personally saw a little boy about four sitting on our river bank. There was a burnt cap on his head, he was badly burnt. People must have tried to fight the fire with water, and so he got frozen. He became like a statue. Sitting right on the ice. I can see that, as if I can see now.

Leonid Soroka’s painful memories became another evidence of the events of those terrible days, the evidence of resistance in the Slutsk ghetto.

Video interview by Leonid Soroka

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