“The fact is that after the war a lot of Jews returned to their old flats, but those were already occupied. Who would give up a flat they had been living in for two to three years? So you have nowhere to go. Conflicts arose, and pretty big ones. I know that because it happened in our house as well, on the second floor. It ended up with the flat being divided into two parts, with both new and old tenants staying there. But in many places they simply wouldn’t let them back in. Where to, Jews? So they began complaining to Mikhoels at the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. The government had respect for Mikhoels, he was an influential figure. The whole world knew him. But the leadership didn’t like that much. They decided he needed to be removed. So he was killed here, in Minsk. He was given the choice of going either to Vilnius or to Minsk. He chose Minsk. What happened to him in Minsk, you know as well as I do. Then the conflicts began. And then the next story started, the creation of Israel, the Arab-Israeli War. And if the Soviet Union stood initially on the side of Israel, then for some reason it later switched and began supporting the Arabs. The anti-Semite movement began.”
“Hard times came, when they dissolved the Jewish Committee, when they killed Solomon Mikhoels. Then the persecution began. Attitudes towards Jews changed. Not publicly, but among the populace. Work was a problem. If you had work, you could continue to do it, but career progress was limited. It was a saying that there was a secret instruction: ‘If they work, let them work, but they mustn’t get any higher.’”
“We ran after the boys, who were being led by a so-called guide. But they were already far ahead. We split up from them. We went down Zaslavska Street towards the brickyard. The people going with us started to ask who would lead us now. Many of them wanted to return to the ghetto, saying they’d wait for another suitable occasion. Not everyone is able to take risks. Mum was a gutsy woman. She said that whoever wanted to could go back to the ghetto, but she would go on. ‘They can shoot me if they want, but I’m not going back in the Pit!’ I still remember those words. And so we went on. And everyone else followed. We knew we had to pass by the brickyard – there were lots of traps there. But we slipped through. When the guides came to us, they explained the route. We had to cross a railroad. I don’t know how, but we managed it. We got to the rails, stopped, and waited. And suddenly two trains were rushing up, one from each side, one to the front, the other from it. As they passed by, the guards stepped away, and we managed to slip across the rails. Mum knew the names of several of the villages we were to pass through. The starting point was Stara Ves. We approached a village, the last cottage on the edge. Everyone hid around the corner, just Mum and I knocked on the window to ask the way.”
“When the horrible four-day pogrom happened, we managed to hide in a secret room, a so-called ‘malina’. The boys had made it. Because we lived in an attic room, they made it inside the metre-deep panelling. There was a metal roof on top, and the room heated up to thirty degrees [Celsius]. We were huddled up there. The boy only just had time to grab the handle and close the door when the policeman arrived. We could recognise only Russian and Ukrainian, but there were Baltic languages there as well – to us, they were Germans. They were looking for something, bashing into everything, but thank God they missed us. My brother was one year old at the time. He had been born on 25 July, he was a year and three days old. You couldn’t explain why he should stay quiet in such heat. He started moaning. They put their hands over his face to make him quiet. When they left, he was dead. Unfortunately. I was alone. My brother was gone. He didn’t even get a name. Mum had still hoped to be able to talk someone into taking him out of the ghetto into the so-called Russian quarter, so she hadn’t wanted him to get used to a name of any kind, just in case. We waited in the ‘malina’ four days. The first night we got out, we wanted to look around our room, which was inhabited by us, one other family, and two boys. One sick boy had stayed there; they had shot him on the spot. We were frightened and hid in the attic. At five in the morning the policemen came back and shouted: ‘Jews, come on out, it’s over!’ Someone probably did come out, but we hid and stayed where we were. It lasted four days. The work brigade didn’t return to the ghetto; we thought the ghetto had ceased to exist.”
They can shoot me if they want, but I’m not going back in the Pit
Yakov Vladimirovich Kravchinsky was born in Minsk in the former BSSR on 25 October 1933. His mother, Dora Tevelevna, came from the Jewish family of Rosa and Tevya Stein in the village of Losha, Uzda District, and worked at a textile plant. His father, Vladimir Yosifovich Kravchinsky from the Jewish family of Rivka Kravchinska of Vitebsk, headed a baker’s shop. In June 1941 his father was drafted into the army, and his mother ended up in the Minsk ghetto with Yakov and an eight-month-old baby in her womb. Yakov’s brother was born in the ghetto on 25 July 1941. Upon being drafter, his father had been immediately transfered to a prison camp. He managed to escape and joined his family in the ghetto. He joined an underground organisation, and when it was discovered by the Nazis, he fled to the partisans in April 1942. During the four-day pogrom that began in the ghetto on 28 July 1942, Yakov and his mother and brother hid in a secret room, dubbed “malina” (possibly from the meaning of “stash” or “small” – trans.), in which his baby brother suffocated. Finally, on 30 April 1943 Yakov and his mother escaped the ghetto to the partisans in the woods. His mother’s resolve also saved the lives of ten other people, who followed her. They managed to find Zorin’s partisan band, and the next day their father took them to the partisan band of Ganzenko, where he served as a minelayer. When Belarus was liberated, the family returned to Minsk. Yakov attended primary school and then studied at the Homyel Secondary Radio Technology School of Anti-Air Defence Forces. He served in a secret anti-air defence unit in Drohobych, Lviv Oblast. In 1975 he left military service and returned to Minsk, where he continued to work even as a pensioner. Since 1994, after the death of his wife Bella Moiseyevna, another former ghetto inmate, Yakov Vladimirovich has been publicly active. He wrote a book about his time in the ghetto, he gives speeches at the History Workshop centres in Minsk and Dortmund and participates in events commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. His son Anatoliy Kravchinsky lives with his family in Essen, Germany.