Feldman was born in 1924 in a small town called Dubrovitsa in Poland and brought up in an Orthodox home. At this time about 3,000 Jews and 2,000 Gentiles lived in Dubrovitsa. At the center of Jewish public life were the Jewish celebration days. She had a happy childhood with three sisters and two brothers. She attended a Jewish school and all her friends were Jewish. Feldman recalls that the Jewish community did not have much contact with the Polish population. Her father was a merchant and dreamt of moving to Palestine. After Feldman had finished elementary school, she attended a Polish public school where she had to face outbursts of anti-Semitism by pupils as well as teachers.
In 1939 the Soviet Union annexed the eastern part of Poland and Dubrovitsa came under Russian control. Under the Communist regime, her father had to give up his business. Anti-Semitic actions were forbidden by the Russians but took place secretly.
The situation for the Jews in this part of Poland changed for the worse tremendously after the Germans invaded in 1941. The Soviets urged the Jews to move to Russia but many of them, including Feldman’s father, refused to leave. Most of the Gentile population of Dubrovitsa welcomed the German troops. The Gestapo immediately arrested twenty-two Jewish men and gathered them in the center of the town announcing that they would execute these Jews because they were communists. A local cleric intervened and, after two days, they released the hostages.
The German officials implemented anti-Jewish laws and the Gestapo established a ghetto within the town and organized a Jewish Council, a so-called “Judenrat.” The Jewish population felt that the members of the Judenrat just followed the orders of the Nazis and did not trust them. Every day the Judenrat had to chose 200 Jews who had to serve the Germans as forced laborers. One day about 50 Jews did not show up for work and the Judenrat handed their names over to the Gestapo who arrested them. The Judenrat had to buy their freedom after the Jewish population protested against the actions of the Judenrat. Feldman says that, apart from disease and the shortage of food, life in the ghetto went on as usual and most of the inmates still adhered to Jewish traditions.
On August 26, 1941, German and Ukrainian police forces surrounded the ghetto in order to liquidate it. Feldman’s father decided that some members of the family should try to get out. Feldman’s mother insisted on staying since she did not feel able to escape with her little son and daughter. So Feldman herself, her father, two sisters, and one brother escaped in a little boat crossing over a river that delineated the border of the ghetto. They hid in a nearby town and the very next day they saw trains leaving the town and Jews who tried to flee being shot. Later on they learned that those trains were heading for a town called Sarni where about 15,000 former ghetto inmates, including Feldman’s mother and her younger brother and sister, were killed by the SS. The rest of Feldman’s family were hidden for a few days by a Gentile business partner of her father. The Nazis were hunting all Jewish escapees with the help of some Poles who then were rewarded by the Germans as they handed over Jews.
Feldman’s family decided to join the partisans who were fighting against the German invaders. They exchanged valuables for weapons by bartering with local farmers. At this time a lot of partisan groups began to operate in eastern Poland and the Ukraine. Feldman’s family joined a unit of the Kovpak partisan group. The Kovpak group consisted of about 5,000 soldiers in total. Feldman was separated from the rest of her family and had to join a different unit. The partisans took part in sabotage against the German army and also killed German officials. Feldman served the Kovpak partisans as a nurse. She remembers an incident where three partisans of her unit got caught. The Nazis cut out their eyes and tongues and executed them in public in the center of a little town to make an example.
In February 1943, Feldman was infected with typhus. She was supposed to recover at a farm near a small village where her unit intended to stay for a while. A few days later, about 45,000 German soldiers approached the village and the partisans had to flee. Feldman was unable to escape and was captured by German soldiers. She pretended to be a Pole since she spoke Polish fluently. The soldiers believed this and released her. Feldman fled into the woods all alone. From a safe distance she witnessed how the Gestapo burned down the village.
Feldman stayed in the woods with some Gentiles who were also hiding from the Nazis. A righteous farmer provided them with food for over six weeks. This farmer and his entire family were then killed by Ukrainian forces because he had helped refugees. Feldman then joined another partisan group. She notes that discrimination against Jews also occurred within the partisans.
In July 1944, Feldman and her fellow soldiers were liberated by the Russian Red Army. The male partisans were inducted into the Russian army whereas Feldman worked for them as a secretary. In 1946 she moved to a displaced persons camp in Berlin and in 1950 she immigrated to the United States. Feldman later learned, that her father, her sisters and her brother were killed in action along with some 100 partisans in the Carpathian mountains.
Date: November 17, 1982
Interviewer: Sid Bolkosky
Length: 2 hours 35 minutes
Format: Video recording