By Leon Koton
Flight from the Ghetto
by Leon Koton
Translated from the Yiddish by Donald Levine
This version in MS Word retyped and edited by Harold Kramer
Dolhinof (also known as Dalhinev)
I remember my father when he came back from America. I was very
full of Jews. Those days in Poland there were 3 1/2 million Jews. In our town
there were 7,000 people, 3,000 non Jews. It was a large town, with five large
Shuls (synagogues) and a Bet Knesset (school). All around, there were beautiful
Shuls. My grandfather, on my mother’s side, was one of the grandest of men -
most beautiful - he was the head of the Yeshiva. He was a Rabbi, he was a Rabbi
and he davened (prayed) beautifully. He was already 70 when I remembered him.
I’m named after my father’s side, Levitche. It is the same person that Lester
(Kramer?) was named after, as well as me, my father’s father.
Dolhinof was a beautiful town. It was, as such, every Friday and Saturday
beauty-- everyone went to Shul. Friday night, the table was set beautifully for the
Sabbath. The songs were beautiful. I can [still] sing all the Sabbath songs. I went
to the Shul with my father and sat next to my Zadie(grandfather). On Saturday
night, we made Havadallah. There were many Hebrew organizations in town.
There was Migdal, Chalutz, Mishrachi, all Hebrew parties with beautiful, young,
(about 180 Km away) for seminar, to learn Yiddish Hebrew and Polish. Many
from our town went to Vilna because of the teachers for Hebrew. We had a
private school. There was also a town school where just Polish was taught. All
the poor people went there to learn. We had money. I went to school with another
younger sister, two years younger than me. We were not rich, but there was
money for learning. There were seven children in the family: Shoshana, Tamar
(they are now 70), then a brother, Isshar. He is gone. The Germans murdered
him, his wife and three children, -- all gone. Then there was a girl of 24 that fell
in the snow, from a sleigh and died within two weeks. There was a doctor, but to
no avail. I was young at that time, it was in the 30’s. Then another sister, then
me, then another sister. The two eldest sisters went to Israel in 1932 and 1933.
The made a Kibbutz in Poland. The Zionist organization prepared strong,
Dolhinof to a camp. There they worked 2 and a half years without pay. They
worked for rich Poles (non-Jews) who owned much of the forest land and mills.
The paid the Zionist organization the money and the organization gave food to the
workers. They worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Shoshana and Tamar went there and
were good workers. Not everyone received tickets from the English for
emigration to Israel. There were a thousand young people.
not concerned about work or living. Their position was live-- if you can. Tamar
went to Israel with a certificate - the first. Shoshana did not receive a certificate
but [it] was illegally sent. By night, they lowered her from a small boat and
smuggled her into Israel. [Leon told me that Shoshona was a strong swimmer and
she swan into Israel from the boat in her undergarments.]
I wrote to Tamar and Shoshana in 1938 or 1939. When I came to Israel,
fire burning - if not today, then tomorrow. There is a war, you must help us get to
Israel. Shoshana and Tamar worked to send papers to bring us to Israel, but it
took a year or more to get the papers. Everything I wrote was the truth--
everything happened. I had much insight in those years. I saw it all, everything
that happened -- the war came.
To speak of the war is very difficult because I saw so much. There were
those that were dead beneath me and over me. Everything was burning. In our
house, there were 50 people. Our house and street were made into a ghetto. They
surrounded it with a fence. Every day we went to work. Each German had a
pistol with which to shoot you. I was like a dog, but worse. A dog they gave food
to eat, to the Jew, nothing to eat. The Jew was no longer a man (he was
dehumanized), but we worked.
One day an auto [full of] Germans came in [and] all the town was sealed
telephones, no radio, nothing. We were hungry. This was in the 1940’s. The
Poles were just like the Germans, with sticks. (However, there was a Pole that hid
me for three days) The second night...no it was the first night...it was Pesach
1942. The Germans came with three autos. Five to seven went into a house to
catch Jews or [catch them] on the street and bring them to the main square. They
drove them like animals. They captured my mother [and] rounded her up with a
thousand others. In our town [there] was a rich Pole that had three corrals of
wood, 1,000 meters long. They put the thousand Jews within. They shot them,
poured gasoline on them and burned them. My mother went up to a German, hit
We all went away, those they didn’t pick up at that moment. It was enough, a
thousand killed, that was enough. They were satisfied that day, they killed their
thousand. The following day the young Jews went to dig graves. In the corral
were charred, burned bodies --smaltz (rendered fat)-- a foot, a hand -- the earth
was heavy. They dug for days-- a trench two meters long -- dragging legs --
looking -- looking for parts of know bodies. We buried. After this, the Poles
sent their pigs out to eat the remains. This was the end-- my mother was gone.
She exists no longer. My father was strong - but we knew in a day or so it is the
end of all of us. I knew -- today or tomorrow in a day or two it is the end of it all.
My older brother lived in a town 120 to 150 kilometers away. We sent
Everything was regulated. If one went one kilometer out of town, they would
Germans came again, stationed themselves around town --- about noon. They
prepared waiting for tomorrow to kill all. At our house there was a small shed
near the kitchen. I dug a room in this shed to hide. All the Jews did a similar
thing, but it was for nothing. The Poles helped in pulling out all of the Jews. On
the first night they surrounded the ghetto. All the Jews were in the ghetto. Our
house was in the ghetto. I said to a young boy, “come with me.” I was full of
determination. I now knew what it was, but I knew I must live -- I must live I
cannot be killed.
a flare, so that it is all light in the ghetto. There is already a barbed wire
barricade.. everyone ... everyone waiting to see what will happen in the morning.
The Germans said that nothing will happen -- do not fear. Everything was lies.
Everything to deceive. Earlier they said to the Jews, anyone who has gold , rings,
etc., bring them in, have no fear. They are needed for the war effort. You must
give them up, but you must also work. But killing? That they will not do.
Anyone who has furs or warm coats must give them up-- everything must be
given up. So, on this night, I put on a warm sweater, one that cannot be closed
here and put on felt boots on my feet, then overshoes on them. It was cold. There
was snow and it was freezing and, as such, I went from the house. I kissed my
father and sister and said “ I am going to find a way to save us.” So my father said
to be careful and even in the ghetto one must watch out. Be careful, come back
and tell me what is doing out there.
I went away and came to a place where my grandfather had lived.
yard and there was a house by the side. The ghetto was over here and the house
was over there. I came to the house by a side and there I noticed in a small corner,
two men. It was one o’clock at night. Who are these men? Two healthy strong,
big men, 30 or 35 years old. These hiding men were Communists. When the
Germans came into town, they immediately hung official notices that all
Communists should appear at such and such an hour. They immediately shot
them all. These two had hidden [and] they didn’t know where they were. I could
see they were terrified and afraid to run away. I noticed that where they were
standing, a board was torn and loosened. It was attached above and unattached
below. You could pull it this way and that. The two were terrified to leave. I
took the kid by the hand, pushed the board aside and crawled out. I listened. It
was quiet and I pulled him toward me and we took off. In the town we had to
cross a garden 30 meters and then a house and then more houses. We began
running and they began shooting. They shot off a rocket. It became light. We
dropped. It became dark and we started running again. We ran the course and
away we went.
Israel, it would be called a big river. It was a stream of 10, 15, 20 meters in width
-- but [full of] water. We went into the water and on the other side there was a
grove of trees - a forest. We were wet, cold and terrified. What do we do?
Where are we going? This was 1942 and I was perhaps 17 years old. We went
into the woods. In the woods were storage areas, which were locked but we
moved a board, crawled in and hid. We rested a couple of hours. It became light.
I thought we can’t stay here [because] they will catch us. We must do something.
We re-closed the shed and went to a known non-Jew. The other kid knew the
woman who knew his father and might know him. We went and went until we
came to the non-Jew. When she saw us she became frightened because no one
was allowed to help Jews under penalty of death. As we sat by the non-Jew, she
gave us each some bread and a glass of milk. We are sitting and we hear the kids
gathering and hollering “Zhid”! “Zhid”! (Jew! Jew!). They knew we where there.
Quick, we must run. We went out of the house and ran and ran and ran to the
woods. All the Gentiles were running after us with stones and sticks. If they
caught us, they would kill us.
We again crawled into an enclosure and hid until dark. During this time,
it was the end there. At night we went to a known Gentile. We had no other
choice. I knew him. Perhaps he’ll help us. He was connected with my folks,
business wise. We had to go over to get water. We came to the Non Jew about
nine at night. He had a big yard, a big house and a big silo. We went slowly --
slowly looking into the windows to see who was in the house. We saw his wife
and him going around in the house. We waited on the outside. Later, the owner
came out of the house to look around and see that everything was okay.
We went up to him. When he saw us he asked who we were. I told him
me.” “He took us to the silo and said, “No one knows that you are here. My wife
doesn’t know. If someone calls or speaks, you will answer no one but me. Crawl
in the straw and cover yourselves. I will bring food and something to cover
yourselves with. In the town they have killed all the Jews and [they] are burning
everything.” This he told us. Later, in awhile, he came back and brought us warm
potatoes, a piece of bread and milk, also a fur cover as a blanket and said that
tomorrow he would go to see what was doing in town. He came the following day
and said, “Children, all is ended. The Germans are there... They are killing and
burning and one can’t go into town. I will check again tomorrow -- stay another
day. On the third day he came to us and said that of all the Jews, there are perhaps
fifty people left. People they have use for -- of yours, there are none left.
At night, one o’clock, we went back into town. I went to our house at
had enough sense when I found a familiar picture to put it into my pocket. I found
my certificate from school and put it in my pocket. I didn’t understand. I saw
mother’s clothing torn, father’s clothing torn, my sister’s torn, everything torn. I
knew which houses to find the Jews that were left. I went there and they are all
crying and telling me that everything is ended. The following morning those Jews
that remained living were allowed to go and bury those that were killed. They we
went from house to house gathering those killed with dum-dum bullets. Heads
torn off, shot in the back of the head -- all ended. We took off pieces of people
from the walls and we laid all in a wagon and took them all to a communal grave.
As to my folks, I didn’t find any. I couldn’t comprehend what happened. Perhaps
others buried them, but I sought and sought and could find nothing. Then they
shot a friend of mine.
accomplished they were in their destruction. How fine and wonderful was their
destruction! They killed about 2,000 people and buried them.
The Germans shot after him. “Jew come back --- Jew come back.” He came back
and a German went up to him, put a pistol to his forehead and shot him. A
second German photographed the happening. They gave him a twist on the nose
and I caught him in my hands. The hot blood spilled over my hands and me. I
buried him myself off to a side. We ended the burial work and I started on plans
to escape to visit my brother in another town. I figured I might meet them. I
didn’t know. We banded together, five of us, four boys and a girl.. two youths
and two older people. The older ones knew the way. We had to go by night --
only by night. It came out that I had to go first, to seek out the way, otherwise
they wouldn’t take me. We went on our way until we came by night upon some
Germans. With packets, they didn’t know who we were. They spoke with the
girl, then allowed us to leave. We arrived at a river. It took about one or two
weeks. Again, we hid by day and traveled by night. In one place they nearly
caught us. Non Jewim suspected we were Jews and ran after us. We hid in the
forest and saved ourselves from them. We then came to the town. It is a story to
woods. They took us into town. There I came together with my brother. In this
town, they brought Jew from the surrounding towns and area. There were very
many Jews not in this town. I was with the family and the director of the Jewish
committee had us eating ... one day here, one day there. My brother also came
from another town. Everyone was hungry, but the people from this town still have
some stuff. In the meanwhile, I did not go to work. Everyone had work details,
everyone must work. However, I started organizing the young people for
escaping. I told them all what happened to us, but they didn’t believe. Man is an
animal -- when he sits in a warm house, why should he go? Where do you go?
Into the woods with children? They didn’t believe [that] the Germans would
come and kill them. They were working. It is nothing. A couple of weeks went
one time felt boots were made. In our area, the winters were very hard and cold.
The Poles wore them on their feet when driving wagons. We made these in our
house. We took wool from the sheep and made these. Shoshana and Tamar made
these until they left for Israel. They and my other sisters made them -- my father
also. I saw this. I was a learned child and would help sometimes. I had a good
head and understood how to make them. The specialty was done by my mother,
who laid out the work. Later it was worked with hot water and irons. I used to
enjoy sitting with my mother while she did this work.
felt boots. I was going to tell Eleazar the story once, but I could tell it was
frightening to him, so I no longer told the story but closed it up in part of my
mind. It is very difficult to talk of it. Speaking of it is very hard. One must
speak from the heart , one’s self. I speak little of Dolhinof today, because it is
difficult even to think of it is hard, but I want to do it for you, to remain for you a
reminder of Dolhinof.
a bit set. I told them they must run and save themselves. My brother had a wife
and three small children, seven, five and three. All were working, nobody wanted
to talk. The Germans fooled the Jews with stories and lies. Jews are smart and
also not so smart. In the whole world Jews are considered smart. In Israel they
are fools. The Germans fooled them. “You have nothing to worry about, you
have a trade, you work. It is different with the others. And the Jews believed
As it was at the same time, I was a leader of a group of young people. I
older than me, all of this in the ghetto Some people had money, some with gold.
With this we bought pistols from the Poles. With gold, you could buy them. It
cost a great deal. It cost twenty or thirty gold rubles. We went from the ghetto to
the woods, one evening. We were gone two nights until we came to a big forest.
This was in 1942. We took food with us, each one had a packet. We walked and
walked in the woods for a week to ten days. We heard from people that here and
there in the woods were partisans .. Russians. We sought them.
One day, about noon, we were halted by a group a saw they were Russians.
looking for you. We want to be with you!” They took us with them. We sat with
them in the woods at a fire and talked. We talked together for about two or three
days. I was with a friend of mine, a buddy of my age. After this talking, they
talked among themselves, with the elders and the Russian partisans. They said
that they couldn’t take all. They could take the older ones, but the younger ones
were too young for them to take. However, one was a barber. They needed him.
One was a tailor. They needed him. We two, they wanted us to go back to the
ghetto, to bring back a typewriter and tobacco, as they had none to smoke and then
return. To us, we saw it was the end. We went back. It was far. We went by
night. Once we hid the whole day in low bushes by the side of the road. We
could see convoys of German trucks going by all day long. At night we went
slowly, slowly until we arrived back at night.
It is something to write about how we arrived into the town. I picked out and we
came to a small wooden house, so old and decrepit. I wondered how it remained
standing. I knocked on the window. A woman asked “Who is there? I say “a
Jew.” “What do you want?” I want to know how to get to the ghetto. She said
that at the fifth or sixth house is a two story house. Jews live there. Go there. It
was in the middle of the night, two or three o’clock in the morning. We came to
the two story house and think what to do. I saw an outhouse. We went in until
morning. We sat there waiting for someone to come in. We couldn’t knock on
the door at that hour. They would not answer. They would be afraid. So we sat
until morning. Then in the morning, a man came, opened the door, saw us
standing there. We are dirty. “Who are you ... who are you?” We are Jews. We
want to get to the ghetto. He took us into the house. We saw an elderly Jewish
woman. He is a Jew. What transpired I don’t know, he told me. These are the
richer Jews that were allowed to live here. They have a mill. Each day Jews
come to work for him and make paper. Stay here in the room. He hid us for the
day and when the workers go back at night, you can go with them. That’s the
way it was.
Excuse me for pausing a moment, but while I was gone to the woods, my
killed. They shot and slaughtered them. Those who survived continued to work.
This was Glaboke. I made a vow in this town to run. My brother and all were
drowned. They drove them into the woods to a big river. Th[ey] [w]ere shooting
many in the river. I went to hide in another house. Later I went into the woods.
When I came back to the ghetto the second time, I worked in a factory. I knew
when I left this town, in another area, I had a cousin on my mother’s side. This
cousin left Dolhinof when I did. He went into the woods. He made contact with
the partisans, with other buddies from Dolhinof. One brother was in the ghetto
with me. He told me his brother was close by in another town. We decided we
would leave at night to seek him out. It all passed in a month’s time, a week here,
a week there. We went out of town a different way to the woods. That’s what
happened to all the Jews in that town.
the partisans. With the Russians in that time, men were expendable. It was
common to send them on a mission when 100 percent would not return, but they
sent them! When you think of what we went through and what we survived, it is
really a Godley happening (a miracle). I remember when I was small, my mother
would say you were born a child with a silk shirt. One cannot write what I have
been through, a hard time. All Jews who have survived have a packet of stories
all their own which they carry with them.
From 1942 to 1945, I was with the partisans. Then [I went] to Russia. I
outstandingly were simply shot. The Russians shot two small Jewish kids for
nothing ... they found any excuse. We went in a group of forward scouts, we’d lie
in water or near tracks. I blew up tracks. Five times I blew up tracks. People saw
that and it was recorded. I even received a medal for it and a high award. I felt
and saw that I had to be tops, for there were five Russians and I was one Jew. I
always went first, they followed. If it were any different, it would not have been
good. “You’re a good boy ... you my buddy. Come with me.” I understood how
joined up with the Army. We arrived in Minsk, excuse me, under fire. I went into
a house, into the cellar. The door was open. In the house it was so... a high
ceiling. The whole cellar was a wall of iron hooks that hold meat, all with people
hanging on them. A half a man, under tables of meat, pieces of cut meat. There
was an oven. They were rendering their fat. It was a long room, perhaps 50
meters, a big room with bodies. There were rooms filled with ladies hair, shoes
[and] glasses. This was Minsk. When I went to camp, the Russians quickly
closed this so not much would be seen. I was one of the last to see it. Then came
high Russian officials. They felt this should not be known by many, so they
with ice. My feet wouldn’t work. I walked like on sticks, but my head told me
[that] I must keep going. There were no doctors. I must do these things myself. I
must keep going for two or three days. There was a time when I was completely
covered with boils. They healed, there were no [medications.] There was time of
lice. Everyone was covered with lice.
Now I speak of Russia, our time in Russia. Winter was with us. We were
We broke off some meat and ate it...grass we ate. It rained for months. I lived in
the woods for three months in a bog. Water was beneath and water [was] pouring
down. It pours and pours. What to do? Man [has a] will to live... so that he can
overcome the greatest difficulties. Pine trees grow in Russia. We cut off two
meters of wood, make poles and greens to lie on, a small hut for one man. The
only thing that helped us was a little fire [a] slowly, slowly, built fire. In the
snow, one watched the fire as the other slept. I had rags and strings on my feet.
That was a difficult year. I have never spoken of this, believe me it is difficult for
me to think of it. It was like a nightmare, a bad dream. It was a difficult time.
Even today we have worries, so these worries are gone by.
(Minna speaks: “He came to Vilna, I came to Vilna, we met and married.)
Vilna. He was [there] until he was six.
I was a strong person, a Zionist. I wanted to get out of Russia. I was a
allowed Jews to go to Poland and from there Jews were able to go on to Israel. I
needed a paper from a man in the military, but they wouldn’t give the paper. I
was back in Vilna. I told an official I had sisters in Israel. I wanted to get out! I
had no fear of them. They said “you’re not going.” Later, Gromnolko helped the
Jews a bit. I was the first to go for papers to get back to Poland and within two
weeks [I went] to Warsaw and quickly [went] to the Israeli Embassy ... and then to
That is a bit of the story. Now I wish to tell a bit of my father and my
difficult to speak of them, for they gave so much love. First, I must say my father
had a great feeling for his sister, your mother. Remember there were other people.
The grandfather married a second time and had other children. From them, none
are left. I remember father writing to his sister and receiving letters. When he
received a letter it was a simcah.. a special day. He carried it around in his
pocket. My father was a very beautiful man, a smart, good man. He had a gold
chain and gold watch and would wind the watch as such and in his pocket [was]
the letter. One time, he held and read the letter with tears streaming down his
cheek and my mother made a joke of it. This I remember. I remember packages
of Donald’s clothing. All my clothes were Donald’s clothes. He was a year older
than me. I was born in 1925 and he was born in 1923. My aunt always sent
packages and I, in return, sent pictures. I was good at drawing pictures. I
remember it as if it just happened. We had bonds [in] our family. Thank God
[that] some way we have survived. There were higher born, more important
people than me, who were in the Polish army and died like flies. God gave me
luck. It was hell and I survived. Those who did not live through it, in their
wildest imagination, cannot know what a hell it was.
around and not shooting the dog and I remember thinking, “Why wasn’t I born a
dog, instead of a Jew?” I was hiding and the Germans were searching out all the
hiding places with guns. I was hidden on the roof, under the eaves. I crawled in
and the Germans were above, searching. There was the street and I could peek
out. There was a small child and with the butt of the guns, they hit the child in the
head. Then I saw a venerable old Jew with a long white beard. He was about 70.
They hit him with boards on the head until he fell. I was here and they were there.
better times, but we must not forget this. Much has been written of this, but the
world doesn’t want to know of it. The world is again ... Christians and Moslems
against Israel. Why? Only because we are Jews ... no other reason. Do they need
territory? They have it.
lecture from the portion of the Torah. He speaks beautifully and is smart. Even
those far from religion listen to him. Yesterday he spoke of 5,000 years ago.
We must hope and care for the land.
Come to Israel ... why go to Japan, Italy ... come to Israel.
All of Israel is history. Everything that is written in the Bible, we are
Heights. It is all written there. Isshar is now in Lebanon.
Typist’s notes: June 1996
I re-typed this manuscript from the handwritten original that was given to
Donald transcribed and translated the original manuscript from Leon.
I met Leon Koton, the narrator of this manuscript, at Cy’s house in May of
man of 72 who still lives in Israel in a suburb outside of Tel-Aviv. He does not
understand English but he does speak Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish and Russian. We
had a long conversation that day with Cy acting as translator from the Yiddish.
Leon told us many other details of this story including how when he first came to
Israel, he had no money and no working papers. Cy’s family here in Connecticut
“saved his life” by sending him some money for an apartment in Israel and after
that he was finally able to get his working papers.
After finally receiving his working papers, Leon worked for many years as
Partisan for the Russians. As a partisan, he had to find the Germans and Russian
sympathizers who had fled into the woods where he had previously hidden.
One son works in the insurance industry and the other in the finance business.
Leon’s sister Shoshana, who is mentioned in the manuscript, is the mother of Eton
and Giyorrah, the two Israeli’s who have visited us here in the U.S. and came to
my daughter Anna’s Bat Mitzvah. They live on a Kibbutz in Northern Israel.
Leon is my second cousin, once removed. Leon’s grandmother was
Kramer. She married Levitche Koton. Levitche Koton and Nechema were also
Cy’s grandparents. Their daughter, Lotte Koton was Cy’s mother. The chart on
the last page shows these relationsips.
Excerpted from the book:
Dalhinev, a town in Balika county located on the Northeastern section of
War. Under a peace treaty reached in Riga in 1921, Dalhinev came under the
jurisdiction of independent Poland until the second world War. This town was
already included on the Lithuanian map during the years 1569 -1667. Its location
is a bit east of the postal railroad tracks which connects Vilejka? with Disna and is
42.5 km Southeast of Velika, 125 unknown units of measure southwest of Disna
and 127.5 km from Vilna (Vilnius).
(On my contemporary map it is referred to as Dolginovo.)
Harold R. Kramer
Revised Oct. 2007
Descendants of Joseph (Yosef) Kramer
Joseph (Yosef) Kramer
Abt 1820 -
Born: Abt 1820
1850 - 1938
in Dahlinev Poland
Feter Beir Maishe Rubin
Elke Pesche Kramer
1848 - 1926
Meier Zalmon Dreizenstock
Lazar Rubin Kramer
Chaya Soske Lurier
Compiled by Harold Kramer May 1996