Igor Kanonik. Minsk ghetto through the eyes of my father (part 3)

(end; beginning and continuation)

…Throughout August 1943, alone, father continued to go to peat mining for the sole purpose of fleeing into the forest as soon as possible. And in early September, a young village girl approached the Jews who worked at the peat and asked: “Who is Dodik here?” She first spoke with a policeman who checked her Ausweis and took some of the groceries from the basket that she carried for exchange in Minsk. Pulling father aside, she quietly asked: “What is your mother’s name?” Having clarified this question, she explained my father that if he would escape, then he needs to go round the German post deep in to the forest and wait for her after two kilometers at the edge of the forest. In two days she will be returning from Minsk, but he should not approach her, and instead carefully follow her through the forest.

It was a Minsk underground woman, a partizan detachment envoy Lidia Dmitrievna Berestovskaya (Kashchey after marriage). Heading towards Minsk, being on the next task of the command of the partizan detachment, and seeing a group of Jews from the ghetto, she immediately remembered the story of my grandmother Liza, that she accidentally heard in the detachment. Partizans asked grandmother from where did she came from and where her family was. And my grandmother had to tell that her only surviving son, a 14-year-old teenager Dodik, remained in the ghetto, and that he may continue to go to forced labor on peat mining to the same place from which she was able to escape in early August.

Lidia Dmitrievna Kashchei, who saved my father

On that day father jumped out of the moving car near the forest when they returned to the ghetto. A Lithuanian policeman just got into the cabin of the car to a German driver, as it began to rain heavily. Other Jews tried to discourage him from jumping, saying that if the guards notice that, they can kill him. Father told them that either way they would kill everyone soon. He spent two days in the forest, and on the third day he waited in the appointed place. By noon, the same young partizan appeared on the forest road. They walked for several days, mainly in the dark, through bushes and swamps, because they were afraid to go along forest roads, and my father did not have any papers. Lida was well-versed in the area, as she was from these places, from the village of Skuraty.

The partizan detachment was in a deep forest, but only ten kilometers from the site of peat mining. When they arrived, Lida told my father: “Go to that dugout, there your mother works as a cook”…

Ghetto Prisoner David Kanonik Testimony

On July 16, 1944, a partizan parade was held in liberated Minsk. In the middle of July 1944, father and his mother returned to their house, the Kanonik family house, where they lived before the war, before the ghetto, near Chervensky road, on 25 Krupskaya street. But the house was occupied, other people lived there for a long time, because they thought all the Jews died. The mother did not want to argue, although it was not a big problem to legally return the house. But she did not do so, apparently, not quite good memories connected her with this house. Having entered the barn in the yard, they found a box with pre-war photographs of the family among a pile of firewood. Grandmother and father went to live in Grushevka, where the old Goberman family house was preserved on Pakgauznaya Street, No. 7 (later Khmelevsky Street), in which grandmother lived until 1925, before she got married. And just than, her own younger sister Rosa Davidovna Troychanskaya (Goberman) returned from evacuation with her daughter Ella and son Erik. Rosa’s husband, Solomon Troychansky, remained in Chelyabinsk, as he held a senior management position at the defense plant. And the two sisters divided the house into two halves, with two entrances. Half of the house inherited by father and his mother had to be converted into a living room. Since before the war, it was used for a light chaise of great-grandfather David Goberman, the grandmother’s father, who worked as a cabman. In general, many Jews lived on Grushevka, who officially worked as cabmen in the Fridman brick factory, which was located in Tuchinka.

David Goberman had two siblings, Nokhim and Yankel, who also lived on Grushevka and were the heads of their very large families. All three were the sons of great-grandfather Abram Goberman, and all were born on Grushevskaya Street in house number 46.

David Goberman was the head of a large family; he and his wife Esther had four daughters and two sons. In each generation, twins were born in the Goberman family.

One son of David Goberman drowned as a teenager in a small lake, which was right on our street. The second son, Evel Goberman (Evel and my grandmother Liza were twins born in 1906), went through the whole war, he was drafted into the army back in 1939. In the rank of captain, he was a political instructor, deputy commander of the 1st tank battalion of the 20th tank brigade of the First Belorussian Front. He took part in the liberation of Belarus, had many decorations and medals.

Evel Davidovich Goberman, brother of Liza Davidovna Kanonik (Goberman)

After the war, Evel, his wife Fira and their three children, the eldest son Vova, the middle Felix and the youngest daughter Sofa lived on our street Pakgauznaya, at number 4. But in the mid-50’s Evel Goberman, among the thirty-thousand Communists, was sent to work as chairman of the Soviet Belarus collective farm in the Kletsk district of the Minsk region. Being a very intelligent person and a good manager, Evel Goberman brought this weak and lagging collective farm to the front in the agriculture of Belarus. He received the right to annually present the achievements of Belarus agriculture at VDNH in Moscow, where prizes and medals were constantly awarded to the collective farms.

After five years as collective farm chairman, Evel Goberman returned to Minsk and was appointed director of the Minsk brush factory, where he worked for many years until his retirement. Evel Goberman died in Minsk in 1979.

One of the four daughters of David Goberman, Lyuba, was married to a border guard officer, Izossim (Zussya) Shmotkin, they lived at the Domachevo outpost near Brest. Lyuba with her young daughter Esmeralda on the first day of the war managed to evacuate with the other wives of the officers. But they could not go far; the car was bombed near Minsk. Locals declared to the Germans that she was Jewish and the wife of a border guard officer, and she and her daughter were shot. And that same border guard officer, Izossim Shmotkin, returned from the war with the rank of major. Having raised a new family, he lived next door to us at Grushevka, in house No. 48. He and his wife Ida had two children, the eldest son Lenya and daughter Olga, with whom I studied in the same class at school No. 3.

David Goberman with his wife Esther and another daughter Raya got into the ghetto, where they died. The only daughter that escaped from the ghetto was my grandmother Liza, born in 1906, as well as the youngest daughter Rosa, born in 1911, who was with her family in evacuation in Chelyabinsk.

Oddly enough, but the area of the Grushevsky village was completely preserved in the pre-war form, it was never bombed. Perhaps because German railway soldiers were stationed there, serving the Minsk railway junction, some of which also worked at the wagon repair plant. For example, in our school No. 3 (where me and my sister Lilya studied), and this was a new four-story building, built in 1936, there were German barracks. After the war, my father also studied there, graduating from evening school.

…After receiving a certificate from the party archive at the beginning of April 1986, all documents were issued to my father in the Moscow District Executive Committee and in the military registration and enlistment office. A telephone was installed in the house on Grushevka – by the way, this wooden house (see photo 2016) is still standing on Khmelevsky street, No. 7. Father was put on a preferential line for an apartment at the place of work at the radio factory. A year later, they offered an apartment in the city center in an old departmental building of the radio factory, on Kommunisticheskaya street. As it turned out later, Oswald, the assassin of President Kennedy, lived in this very house at the time when he worked at the Minsk Radio Plant.

Kanonik’s family house on Grushevka, photo from 2016

In addition to the large ghetto, in Minsk there was another small ghetto. At the end of the summer of 1941, the Germans selected 500 specialists of rare and important specialties from a large ghetto, together with their families, they resettled 3000 people to this small ghetto. Since November 1941, European Jewish specialists also fell there. It was an SS work camp on Shirokaya Street. The camp was constantly replenished also at the expense of Jewish prisoners of war, who were brought from different places. So in August 1942, officer Alexander Aaronovich Pechersky got there with a group of prisoners of war. He spent almost a year in the labor camp, and a month before the destruction of the Minsk ghetto in September 1943, he, as part of a large group of Jewish specialists, was sent to the Sobibor extermination camp with their families.

The extermination camp Sobibor was established in the spring of 1942 in southeastern Poland. A month after arrival, Pechersky became the leader of the only successful uprising in the death camp during the Second World War. After the successful uprising on October 14, 1943, the Nazis killed everyone who remained in the camp and completely destroyed it.

One of the most mysterious and tragic stories of the Minsk ghetto is a story little known to the general public about how, in early October 1943, 26 Jews from several families living on Sukhaya Street hid in a pre-prepared basement-crypt near the cemetery itself. At that time, the last 3,000 Jews remained in the ghetto. The hiding people had a correct calculation – everyone already understood that the Minsk ghetto had only a few days left.

And so it happened, from October 21 to October 23 was the last pogrom, it was a sweep. Hiding in houses, basements and malinas (self-made shelters) did not make sense anymore, since during the last pogrom there was not a single place left where grenades would not fly, and you do not need to do sweeps in the cemetery and look for someone. They stayed there for 9 months, until July 1944. Realizing that the ghetto was already gone, they continued to hide, and only at night they could breathe fresh air and carefully draw water from the nearest well.

There is a wonderful story about these people by Minsk resident Ilya Leonov “263 days in the underground”, as well as “1111 days on the brink of death”.

As you know, tankmen of several armies were liberating Minsk at once, but another military unit did the real sweeping of the city. These were the soldiers of the 132nd border (later the Minsk Order of the Red Star) regiment of the NKVD troops, the rear guard of the army, the Third Belorussian Front.

July 4, 1944, the day after the liberation, while carrying out their work, the soldiers went around the whole city. They found 13 exhausted, ragged people in the Jewish cemetery, in the territory of the former ghetto, looking like the living dead.

After finding this out, the regiment commander, hero of the Civil War, an Odessa Jew, guard colonel Arkady Zakharyevich Khmelyuk ordered that all 13 survivors will be urgently taken to Orsha to the hospital, since there was no hospital in Minsk yet. Father also spoke about this in his memoirs.

Certificates of David Efimovich Kanonik – partizan and war veteran

For cleaning Minsk and its environs, as they caught more than 400 policemen and traitors, this regiment, the only one among the military units of the NKVD, received the honorary name “Minsky”.

In the mid-70s I was drafted into the army precisely in this “Minsky” regiment, military unit 7574, a convoy regiment of internal troops. The military unit was located in the center of Vilnius, and occupied the premises of the former monastery adjacent to the back of the church of Peter and Paul. In the courtyard of the military unit there was a large monument.

Once, during the Victory Day holiday, elderly veteran officers spoke in the assembly hall. One of them told how in July 1944 they liberated Minsk. And on July 4, the day after the liberation, 13 survivors were found in the territory where the Minsk ghetto was located in the cemetery. The story sounded unreasonable, because it was known that the Minsk ghetto ceased to exist in the twenties of October 1943.

Having been demobilized from the army, already at home in Minsk, I told my father about this. And then father said that they were their relatives and neighbors from Sukhaya Street. One of the eldest in this group of 26 Jews was Elya (Israel) Goberman, a cousin of my father’s mother, my grandmother Liza Kanonik (Goberman). Elya Goberman before the war also living on Grushevka in house number 46 and worked as a cabman on his carriage, always harnessed by his favorite horse nicknamed Haver (friend). The horse understood all the Yiddish commands.

Elya and his wife Heyna survived, they were among the 13 that was saved. Three of their daughters died. In December 1942, their youngest six-year-old daughter Maya, born in 1936, fell ill and died in the ghetto. In August 1943, policemen accidentally detained and took to the gas chamber their two eldest daughters, the middle Sonya, born in 1932, and older Fanya, born in 1928. For more than two years of life in the ghetto, the parents managed to protect their daughters who were hiding in the “malinas” when their parents were in forced labor.

Father has told me that Uncle Elya invited him in August 1943 to join them and also hide in this basement. The basement was prepared by the famous Minsk stove-maker Pinya Dobin, a good friend of Elya Goberman. But father refused, as he hoped in the very near future to run away and look for his mother, who was already in the partizan detachment.

After the war, my father often saw the Gobermans, as the three sisters of Uncle Elya, Raya, Nechama and Yokha lived with their families in our neighboring house on Grushevka, in the same house No. 46. The large house was divided into three separate apartments. Uncle Elya and his wife Heyna lived a long life with the dream of Zion, but then it was not possible to realize it. Elya Goberman died in 1973, and Heyna in 1981.

Elya and Hyena Goberman, mid-1950s.

Father is no longer alive. His memories of life in the ghetto were recorded in 1996 by the Steven Spielberg Foundation employees and are preserved in the Jewish Museum in Minsk.

Maya Kanonik (Meisels), wife of David. Photo from 2019. On December 18, she turned 85 years old, she lives in Ashdod. We congratulate her on behalf of the all readers of the website. Mazal Tov!

The children of David Efimovich Kanonik, Lilya and Igor (the author of this story)

Eternal memory to all relatives who died in the Minsk ghetto.

Only memory remains for our generation. Memory is not needed by the dead – memory is needed by the living.

I would like to note that I am not a historian, but I know history.

Igor Kanonik, Haifa (Israel)

Written in 2013–2019.

Translation from the original by Igor Shustin

Published 04/17/2020 11:31


Felix Goberman from Australia sent photos of his father and mother from 1945.

Evel Goberman                                                             Fira Goberman

Added 04/20/2020 18:14