Zman Magazine interviewed Aron Bielski, the last-surviving member of the famed Jewish partisan brothers who fought the Nazis and saved more Jews than Oskar Schindler. The following is an excerpt from this month’s cover story.
…It was evidently far from easy for Aron to open up and share his wartime experiences with us. It was as if he was reliving the horrific suffering of those terrible times all over again. His face told the story of the turmoil he went through as he described what the Nazis did to him, his family, and the Jewish nation.
But when Aron began speaking about his father, the words caught in his throat. He literally choked on the tears and could not bring the words out of his mouth.
It is not difficult to imagine what it meant for a young boy, not yet bar mitzvah, to witness his father being tormented for weeks on end. His tender heart could barely survive the pain, a pain that no child in the world should have to bear.
Aron Bielski was forced to watch as a Belarus policeman, a man who had known the family for many years, grabbed his elderly father, who was walking with the aid of a cane, and slammed him into a wall. The police officer delivered blow after barbarous blow to the elderly R’ Dovid, beating him with the butt of his rifle and breaking several of his bones as his son Aron watched in terror. His father curled up in agony, tried desperately not to scream from pain in a pathetic attempt to spare his already traumatized son.
As Aron recalled this scene, he was visibly shaken. He had to excuse himself and step outside. It was a while before he was able to collect himself and resume our interview. He apologized and confessed, “Until recently I didn’t even have the relief of tears. I wanted to cry but I just couldn’t. My brothers and I lived in New York and we got together frequently, but we rarely discussed the war. We never spoke about those times; it was simply too painful.”
Aron then continued where he had left off in the previous conversation, about how his father was beaten by a policeman.
“After that incident, my father remained bedridden. My mother might have survived the war were it not for that beating. She refused to leave my father alone, and remained with him until the bitter end.”
Aron Lies in his Self-Dug Grave
Aron continues: “When several weeks had past and the two wanted brothers had still not been captured, the police department decided that drastic measures were called for. One day, a large army of police officers swooped down on our home. They didn’t find their desired prey, Asael and Zus, but they did capture Avraham, who was one year older than Zus, and 17-year old Yankel, who was home because he had broken his foot. Both of them were taken to the police station.”
“My mother,” relates Aron, “feared the worst and immediately began exploring all avenues to have my brothers released. Someone suggested to her that the police commissioner was open to receiving bribes. She quickly gathered whatever valuables she could find in the house, and my mother and I set out for Novardok by horse and buggy to bribe the police commissioner into freeing my brothers.
“We left the horse and wagon by my uncle in Novardok and set out on foot in the direction of the police station. My mother was wearing the mandatory yellow Star of David, something all Jews were forced to do ever since the new anti-Semitic laws had been passed. For some reason, I wasn’t wearing one at the time. According to the Nazi regulations, Jews were not permitted to walk on the sidewalk, so my mother walked on the street while I walked on the sidewalk next to her.
“We had walked across one street when Vatya Kushel, a local police officer, noticed me. He turned to several Nazi soldiers patrolling the street and pointed his finger at me, ‘You see that boy? He is the youngest brother of Asael and Zus.’
“Kushel was not a stranger to us. Our flour mill was officially under the name of Kushel’s father. At that time Jews were not permitted to own any land and the only way Jews were able to do business was by finding a non-Jew to buy land and then purchase it from him off the record. So it came to be that Kushel’s father was the owner of our mill ‘on the books.’ He was a decent, honest person, as you can imagine, and my father trusted him. However, when the war broke out, Kushel’s son joined the police force, and became a collaborator with the Nazis.
“In any case, the Nazis on that street in Novardok immediately converged upon me and brought me to the police station. At the same moment that I was being brought into the police station, my two brothers were being led out. Our eyes met briefly. That was the last time I ever saw them alive. I didn’t know it then, but my two brothers were being led to their deaths. I was hurled into a dark cell.
“I was 11-years old at the time. The other inmates taunted me, ‘You are a Jew and you will never leave this place alive.’
“I had been in the cell for no more than half an hour when, suddenly, five burly German soldiers appeared, and, yelling and cursing wildly, shoved me out of the cell and toward the yard behind the police station. They brandished their rifles menacingly at me and promised to kill me if I wouldn’t reveal my brothers’ whereabouts. They forced me to dig a pit in the ground the size of my own body, and ordered me to lie down inside. They aimed their rifles at me and shouted, ‘Zhid, we are going to shoot you if you don’t tell us where your brothers are. These are your last moments on this world.’”
The threats and intimidation were kept up for quite a while, but when the Germans saw that the young boy would not yield, they dragged him out of the pit and led him back into the police station and into his cell. The young Bielski was certain that his fate was sealed, but apparently Hashem wanted otherwise. Five minutes later, another police officer appeared suddenly, opened the cell door, and turned to Aron. “Go home,” he bellowed.
Until this very day, Aron still marvels how he emerged from that lions’ den unscathed. He knows it was only a miracle that saved him.
We asked Aron to describe how it felt for a young boy to lie in his self-dug grave waiting for the end. He responded, “Thinking back, I really don’t know how it’s possible, but I didn’t even cry. I was of course very frightened but there were no tears.”
Despite Aron’s self-effacing modesty, his noble character and courage come through. Five German soldiers with guns drawn were standing above him as he lay in his own freshly dug grave. He knew he was going to die, and yet he refused to betray his brothers….
See the new Zman for the rest of the story…
Table of Contents
The San Francisco Earthquake
Over 100 years ago, on April 18, 1906, the worst earthquake in the history of America shook the city of San Francisco. It broke open gas lines and touched off fires that continued to blaze for three days. Five square miles of the city were destroyed and the death toll reached 3,000. The city of San Francisco would never be the same again.
Saving the Mint
While everyone else was preoccupied with fleeing to save their lives during the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906, one group of heroes remained behind in the burning city to save the American economy.
The amazing and dramatic story of the heroic Bielski brothers, who constructed an entire village deep within the forest, in the heart of Nazi-occupied territory, and saved over 1,200 Jews, the single largest World War Two rescue operation of Jews. They exemplified the motto: “Saving a single life is like saving an entire world.”
The unmanned Predator drone has proven to be the most efficient weapon in the US Army’s arsenal against Al-Qaeda. At any given time a drone is flying somewhere in the skies over Afghanistan and Pakistan on a mission against terrorists, keeping them in constant fear for their lives.
Soldier for Peace
At the height of the Cold War, a high ranking Soviet officer began passing secrets to the Americans and British. But was he a real spy or a double agent?
When Aliens Attacked America
In 1938, a radio station threw countless Americans into a hysterical panic believing that Martians were attacking the United States.