The shock from the deafening bomb blast paralyzed my 11-year-old body. This time it was closer. Chaos and panic erupted as my mom yelled frantically for me, my brother, and two sisters to evacuate immediately. Our house was on fire! Mom grabbed what few possessions she could while my siblings and I ran outside wailing. Dad wasn’t home yet. Smoke and darkness filled the air, and bombs were exploding all around us. My heart was racing as I ran. The ashes behind me were just the beginning of my shattered life. It was the start of WWII in Belarus.
We stayed the night with another Jewish family where we were reunited with my father. The Nazis had cleared the way and moved into Minsk, and all Jews were ordered to relocate to a ghetto. My dad begged my mom to let me go with him to fight with the Partisans, but my mom wouldn’t let me. With fear that was even tangible for a young boy, my dad gave me a hug and said he would be back to help the rest of the family escape. I never saw my dad again.
It wasn’t long before the pogroms (brutal mass murders) in the ghetto began. I remember them as a time of mass hysteria and unrelenting grief. Men, women, and children ran for their lives desperately trying to escape and hide from beatings, rape, and merciless gun fire. After the chaos, friends and neighbor’s bloody bodies were strewn across the ground. I will never forget March, 1942. It was the last time I saw my older sister Hana (13) and my younger brother Boris (5). They were gunned down in the ghetto while my mom was working as a forced laborer in a Nazi factory. At the time, I was with my other sister Maja (9). We had snuck out of the ghetto by crawling under barbed wire earlier that day and were hiding in the Russian area. It seemed like life couldn’t get worse, but it did. Not long after, my mom went to work and never returned. People said the factory was closed and everyone was killed. I never saw her again.
I was now 12, and my sister 10. We were alone, orphans, thinking about how to survive together. We ran from the ghetto and wandered through villages begging. People were dying from hunger and had nothing to share with us. We had lost hope that anyone would help us, so when winter came we returned to the ghetto. Every day I would leave my sister in the ghetto and sneak out to search for food, and the Partisans. Many times I came close to death, but one day I stumbled across some Partisans on horseback. They accepted me into their squad and sent me on an assignment to return to the ghetto to bring other people and my sister to them in the forest. Avoiding soldiers, we snuck out of the city and went through forests and swamps.
Some people died along the way, but most were saved. My sister and I survived this way until the liberation of Minsk. When the war ended, we were left with nothing— just deep emotional scars. I had lost my parents, my two siblings, and almost everything I had known and loved. My sister and I were separated. She went to an orphanage for girls, and I was sent to an orphanage for boys.
When I became of age, I left the orphanage and started to rebuild my life. Later, I married my wife Raisa, and we had two beautiful girls.
Then in 1995, I met Stewart and Chantal, and I became a part of their monthly meeting for Holocaust Survivors, where we would speak about God, the Bible, and life. They and their team started to visit me and my wife in our home. They helped subsidize our meager income with humanitarian aid, food baskets, and clothes.
When I was hospitalized they visited me regularly, prayed for me, and even serenaded me with a saxophone in my hospital room.
For over 20 years, Stewart, Chantal and their team, have continued to show me the love of Yeshua. It was in my home, not long ago, praying with Valodya (an RII minister) that my heart opened completely to Yeshua.
Today I battle cancer, but I no longer fight my battles alone. I am surrounded by the love of my family and the unconditional love and support of the Reach Initiative team. In the midst of my pain I have peace in Yeshua, and I lift my hands and praise the Lamb of God for shedding His blood for me.
My life has been transformed and the lives of hundreds of other Holocaust Survivors just like me, because of the work of Stewart and Chantal, their Reach Initiative team, and supporters like you. Thank you for listening to our life stories and remembering us!