This article first appeared on the website of The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy
We returned from an amazing and very exciting "Roots-Trip" to Belarus, which will be remembered, by us, for many years. The participants in this trip were as follows: Menachem Etkin, a 2G to a Holocaust survivor; my wife, Mazal; our son, Eyal, who is a 3G to a Holocaust survivor; my brother, Haim Etkin, a 2G; and his wife, Taly. This "Roots-Trip" was managed and very well planned and directed by Tamara Borodach, who specializes in organizing Roots-Trips to Belarus.
Here is a brief description and a few photos:
We had erected a memorial monument with the help of Mr. Franklin Schwartz of Minsk, in the Jewish cemetery of Dokshitsy, in memory of my grandmother (whom I never met), Eva (Chava) Kaminska-Etkin, who was a brave Jewish partisan in Belarus. She was a medical nurse in the "October" Brigade. My father, Michael (Mishka) Etkin, who survived the Holocaust but lost all of his family, continued searching for his dear beloved mother, during all his life, with no success.
When he was 65, my father asked the Belarussian embassy in Israel to try to search in the archives in Belarus for information about Eva Kaminska-Etkin from the "October" Brigade. He received a letter saying that she had been caught by the Nazis in May, 1944, in the forests of Belarus (together with her fellow partisans). She was tortured and hanged by the Nazis on June 3rd, 1944 (a few weeks before the liberation of Belarus from the Nazi occupation). Although my father apparantly did not know it, her story was mentioned in the Globokie Yizkor Book, including the statement that she and her comrades were hung in Dokshitsy. We conducted a memorial ceremony there, with the participation of a member of the district government, local newspaper journalists and photographers, and Mr. Nikolai Dmitrovich Chiastikov, who still remembers well when the Nazis had built the hanging ramp in Dokshitsy in 1944, on which they hanged my dear grandmother, together with her fellow partisan friends from the "October" Brigade. My wife, Mazal, read a very emotional and moving memorial which she wrote at home a day earlier, "Our Dear Eva (Chava), After 65 Years, We are Here”.
Since his mother's place of burial is unknown (though just a few months ago my mother found an old notebook, which my father wrote in 1949, with all of his memories from Belarus, including the fact that a partisan he had met had told him that she was buried somewhere near Plissa), my father wanted to try to find her grave, put a stone on it (according to the Jewish custom), and tell her that "Despite everything... we had won."
So, we had erected this memorial monument for her (photo on left) which will hopefully stand in Dokshitsy forever. We had fulfilled his wish. We pasted, on the back of this memorial monument, a unique aluminum sign with all of the names of our family members who were killed in Belarus during the Holocaust.
I gave a one hour lecture about my father’s life story, "Despite Everything...I had Won," by Michael Etkin z"l, to about 100 students in the Dokshitsy High School (photo above, on right). I lectured in English and the local English teacher and our dedicated guide translated it into Russian. After the lecture, I donated the book, in English, to the school's library (I have donated the Hebrew version of this book to every school library in Israel in which I have lectured during the last four years.)
Next, we traveled to my father's shtetl - Krulevshchizna, a village in the Dokshitsy District, between Dokshitsy and Globokoe, where we searched for the Etkin family house. We met with the three oldest ladies in the village, who said they remembered the Etkin family, and showed us the house (which is a now a music school) and also the location where the Etkin family businesses were located; the flour-mill and the sawmill.
At left is a picture taken in approximately 1935, in Krulevshchizna, of the extended Etkin family. Shown are, standing from left to right: Eva (Chava) Kaminska-Etkin; my father's uncle Hanoch (Chonke) Etkin; his wife (name unknown); Chanan Pirivoskin (husband of my father's aunt Rachel Etkin); Bomma Kabakov, a cousin who came from Israel to visit the family in Krulevshchizna; my father's aunt Rachel Etkin; and one more unknown family relative. Sitting: My father's grandparents, Chaya-Liebe Kabakov and Shaul-Rafael Etkin. At the bottom, from left to right: Mike (Zelik) Hodosh my father's cousin; my father Michael (Mishka) Etkin; his twin brother Chaim-Shepse (Shepsele) Etkin; and Greg (Hirshel) Hodosh, my father's cousin (Mike Hodosh's brother).
A year or two later, in the photo below left, my grandparents and their twins, my father (next to my grandmother) and my uncle (who died in the Holocaust), posed in front of their house.
On the right is a picture of the house as it looks today. .
We headed to the city of Globokoe. The Jews of Krulevshchizna, including the entire extended Etkin family, were forced by the Nazis into the Globokoe ghetto in October, 1941. We visited the three mass graves and held a memorial service. We lit a memory candle there and said the Kaddish.
Early in the morning, on August 20, 1943, the Nazis' tanks, which surrounded the Glubokoe ghetto, started to bomb the ghetto with fire-bombs. The Nazi machine guns were firing at Jews all over the ghetto. Most of the Jews gathered in the area of the ghetto, which faced towards the "Barok" forest two kilometers away, and started to break the ghetto's wooden fence by kicking and hitting it.
My father's Aunt Leah was also standing there, holding both of the twins (my father Mishka and his brother Shepsele), on each side of her. My eleven year old father told his Aunt Leah, "Lets run away from here now, or we will die." But she replied, "No, we are not running! We are staying here together." My father undoubtedly understood that this was probably the last minute in which he could save his life. He released his arm from his aunt's grasp and started running very quickly through the broken wooden fence of the burning Glubokoe ghetto towards the nearest forest which was full of Partisans.
The Nazis were firing their automatic machine-guns at all of the Jews who were running in the open field towards the "Barok" forest. During my father's "race-for-life" in the open field, a bullet hit his leg but he continued running as long as he could; however, after about one and a half kilometers of running with a bleeding foot, he fell down in the open field. He looked for someone to pick him up and to help him to get to the nearby forest. Indeed, the blessed "angel" arrived. His name was Motke Kraut. He picked my father up and carried him on his shoulder to the Partisans in the "Barok" forest. His mother, Eva Kaminska-Etkin, was fighting with the "October" Partisans brigade, against the Nazis, in another forest.
We drove to the old Jewish cemetery in Glubokoe to try to find the graves of my grandfather, Menachem-Mendel Etkin z"l (who died of a lethal blood infection at the age of 32, in March 1941, about six months before the Etkin family was forced by the Nazis to relocate to the Globokoe ghetto), my great-grandfather Shaul-Rafael Etkin z"l, and my father's uncle Haim-Shabtai z"l (who died at the age of 19). But, unfortunately, we did not find any of the Etkin family tombstones because most of the tombstones in this cemetery were totally ruined by the Nazis. The rest of the tombstones are either broken or unreadable.
We had a very warm meeting with the mayor of Globokoe in his office, for about an hour, in which we also discussed many future ideas about how to preserve the memory of the Jewish people who were killed by the Nazis in the Globokoe ghetto. We gave the mayor a copy of my father's book and received a picture of a local church.
I gave another one hour lecture to approximately 100 students at the Glubokoe High School. This lecture was in Hebrew, with a translation into Russian. I donated the book to the school's library.
We next visited the Globokoe Hospital, where my grandmother had worked as a nurse. We met with the hospital’s director and gave her one of the aluminum signs with my grandmother's photo on it. She promised us that it would be displayed in the hospital. My father always told us that he would like to bring a photo of his beloved mother to the Glubokoe hospital and he requested that it be displayed there. So, we fulfilled one more of my father's dreams.
Our entire visit in Dokshitsy and in Globokoe was covered by a few local and regional newspaper journalists and photographers and by a regional radio station.