Stories Of 2021 Holocaust Memorial Day Torchbearers

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JERUSALEM (VINnews) — This Thursday marks Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel, which will be commemorating 80 years since the beginning of the mass exterminations. Six torchbearers have been chosen to light flames at Yad Vashem. Here are some of their stories:-

Manya Bigunov

מניה ביגונוב (צילום: איציק הררי)

Manya Bigunov was born in 1927 in the Ukrainian city of Teplyk, the youngest of Nahum and Frima’s three children.

In June 1941, immediately after their invasion of the Soviet Union, the Germans began shooting hundreds of thousands of Jews at hundreds of murder sites. In July, the Germans occupied Teplyk, and sent residents from the city to forced labor, including Manya and her mother. On 27 May 1942, the Germans rounded up some of the camp workers, including Manya and her mother, and began loading them onto trucks. After Frima was placed on a truck, one of the Germans slammed Manya against a wall and she lost consciousness, remaining motionless on the ground. The trucks drove to the nearby forest, where all the Jews on the trucks were unloaded and shot to death, including Frima.

After she regained consciousness, Manya was transferred to different labor camps. She escaped from one of the camps with her friend Esther, and they returned to Teplyk. There Manya found her father among a group of Jewish professionals who were being held by the Germans for work purposes. The group paid a local man to lead Manya and her friend to the Bershad ghetto in Transnistria, where they arrived in September 1942. In the ghetto, they had to cope with harsh living conditions, hunger and cold. In the winter, Manya fell ill with typhus. In 1943, Nahum came to the ghetto, but died of illness in February 1944, three weeks before the area was liberated by the Red Army.

Following liberation, Manya returned to Teplyk, where she was reunited with her brother and sister. Manya married Naftoli Bigun, who served in the Red Army and survived in POW camps by concealing his Jewish identity. When Naftoli returned from captivity, he was imprisoned by the Soviets, former prisoners being considered traitors by the Soviet regime. It was not until 1954, after Stalin’s death, that Naftoli was released, but he died in 1961 at the age of 39. Manya worked as a nurse in a hospital, raising her daughter Edit alone.

After the war, Manya worked tirelessly to preserve the memory of the Jews of Teplyk who were murdered in the Holocaust. She immediately began to write about the experiences of her Jewish community. She described every house where Jews lived before the war, and wrote down the names and stories of all the Jewish occupants of each house, and if they survived, their experiences after the war. The information, including a diagram of the town, was transferred to the Yad Vashem Archives. Manya filled dozens of Pages of Testimony commemorating the people of Teplyk. She wrote articles about her community, and published them in the Russian press. She was also active in a group that erected a monument to the Jews of Teplyk and held memorial ceremonies there.

In 1992, Manya immigrated to Israel with her daughter and two granddaughters. Manya Bigunov has told her story to thousands of schoolchildren, students and teachers.

Yossi Chen

יוסי חן (צילום: ישראל הדרי)

Yossi Chen was born in 1936 in the town of Łachwa, Poland (now Lakhva, Belarus), the eldest son of Dov Berl and Chaya Sara Chinitz. In July 1941, the Germans occupied Łachwa and on Passover eve 1942, all the town’s Jews were ordered to move into the ghetto. Many of the ghetto’s inmates, including Yossi’s grandmother, died of starvation, overcrowding and epidemics.

In August 1942, the Jews in the ghetto learned of the liquidation of nearby ghettos and the use of ghetto laborers to dig pits near the town. Rumors circulated that the ghetto residents were about to be murdered. Earlier, the ghetto youths had organized an underground, with the knowledge and support of the Judenrat [ghetto Jewish council].

When the ghetto inhabitants were rounded up to be taken for execution, an uprising broke out during which the Judenrat called on the ghetto Jews to flee to the forests. This was one of the only uprisings in the history of the Holocaust carried out by the young people of the community in full cooperation with the Judenrat. The majority of the thousand Jews who tried to flee were shot and killed. Amid the tumult of the shooting and the inferno, six-year-old Yossi fled to the forests. “Thanks to that revolt, I am alive today,” says Yossi.

Yossi’s mother and younger brother Moshe were caught and murdered. Yossi became separated from his father and escaped alone into the swamps. After about an hour, he found his uncle, Hersh Leib. The next day, the two found Dov Berl. They forced their way through the swamps in an attempt to reach the partisans. Suddenly they heard a shot, and Hersh Leib let go of Yossi’s hand. It was the worst moment Yossi remembers: His uncle had been murdered by a Pole who ambushed the fugitives in order to rob them.

Yossi and his father hid in haystacks, swamps and forests, drank water from pits and swamps and ate berries until they found the partisans and joined them.

At the end of 1943, the Germans and their aides launched a manhunt for the partisans. Yossi and Dov Berl moved around on foot and in sledges in the forests of Belarus, hungry and frozen. They improvised shoes from cowhide straps, and garments from pieces of coarse cloth. When Yossi fell ill, he was put on a sledge, wrapped in rags and piles of snow to keep his body warm, and given spoons of soup until he recovered.

When he was strong enough, Yossi was instructed to obtain food from the farmers in the area. He excelled in navigating and orienting himself in the forests, and even helped older people reach their destinations. Several times he encountered the Germans, but always managed to escape. “We were like cockroaches running away from place to place,” remembers Yossi.

In July 1944, Yossi and Dov Berl were liberated by the Red Army. They moved west to the DP camps. In July 1947, the two boarded the Exodus illegal immigrant ship, but the British detained the ship and the passengers were rerouted to Europe and forcibly unloaded at the port of Hamburg in Germany. In August 1948, Yossi and Dov Berl immigrated to Israel.

Yossi was a senior commander in the IDF’s intelligence unit and worked for the Mossad. He wrote a study on the activities of the Mossad in pursuing Nazi War Criminals, of which only a part was allowed to be published.

Yossi and Nechama have three daughters and nine grandchildren.

 


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