Iosif Fridman

Lipovets Ghetto Survivor (Ukraine)
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Iosif and his twin sister Manya were born in the small village of Lipovets, the Vinnitzkaya Oblast, on October 10, 1925. On June 21, 1941, Iosif took the train to Kiev where he met his uncle and his brother Mikhail, known as Milya, who was studying there in a medical institute. The next day, came the dreaded announcement: war had begun. It was a shock. Nobody thought that the Nazis would occupy Ukraine so quickly. His uncle immediately took Iosif back to the train station to send him back home, which took a lot of effort but finally they were met with success. Iosif’s uncle told him to make sure that his parents, sister, and other relatives evacuate deep into Russia.

Iosif’s trip took a long time and by the time he returned, his parents and sister had already left. Only his grandfather, aunts and cousins remained. Iosif’s grandfather particularly refused to leave and convinced his daughters to stay. He stated, “It’s all imaginary, the Nazis don’t kill anyone and I know that from the World War I.”

A month after the start of the war, the Nazis took Lipovets in battle, although they suffered significant losses, especially in the Slovakian troops. After the war, the Slovakians erected a monument to mark the graves of their lost, but the graves of murdered Jews have no memorial.

The “new order” of fascist murderers began with the organization of a local police. The extermination orders for the Jews came quickly. Only then did Iosif’s relatives understand that the rumors of the fascist barbarianism were true. The Nazis and their appointed police robbed Jewish houses, taking all of their valuables. Every day, they sent the Jewish citizens out to perform forced labor without pay or food. At the end of August, the Nazis gathered many young women and men, took them out of town, and executed them.

In September 1941, all the Jews were herded to the ghetto. Every house there was marked with a drawing of the six pointed star and the word “zhyd”, a derogatory term for Jew. People suffered horribly of hunger, illnesses, and abuse.  Police patrolled the ghetto borders, forbidding exit. Iosif’s friends, Izya Rosenfeld and Grisha Sandlirskiy, tried to run away, but were shot. People understood that the mass extermination was due to begin.

Early one morning, Nazis arrived. They were decked out in SS emblems and skull cockades – the omen of death. They, with the assistance of the police, chased almost everyone from the ghetto towards the railroad station.

In Iosif’s home, there was an old style Slavic oven and his grandfather made him climb inside and set a pot nearby so its shadow fell on top of the oven. The police demanded to know where Iosif was and his grandfather claimed Iosif never returned from a grocery trip. The police threatened him and said Iosif wouldn’t escape, but his grandfather stuck to his story. After hiding in the oven and, later, the attic, Iosif snuck out of the ghetto and ran to Strutynki, a nearby village, almost getting shot by a policeman on the way. In Strutynki, there lived a tractor driver named Ivan Chaban. Iosif’s father, Lev, worked in the Machine Tractor Station as a warehouse director and Iosif often helped him, so Iosif knew all the tractor and combine drivers in the district and where they lived. He also knew that they all liked and respected his father. Iosif’s gambit worked out, at least partially, as Ivan did not turn him in but he told Iosif that he could not stay because the village was too dangerous.

That night, Iosif made it to the village of Napadovka to another of his father’s colleagues, a combine driver named Vasil, who gave him shelter. Iosif stayed there until December 1942, when Vasil got a document from a friend in the village of Horosheye. The document consisted of pre-war papers that named its holder as Ivan Vinnichuk, a Ukrainian and a local resident. The real Ivan Vinnichuk, Vasil’s friend’s grandson, had volunteered to go to Germany for work so Vasil told Iosif to go to other districts and claim that he escaped from being sent to Germany. That is how Iosif Fridman became Ivan Vinnichuk. Vasil warned Iosif not to get caught and told him, “Remember, they don’t look at documents, they just pull down your pants”. Circumcision certainly made it easy to tell Jews from Slavs. Afterwards, Iosif hid in the districts of Oratovsky and Pliscovetsky and worked in the Sologubovsky state farm. The workers at the farm caught Iosif by pulling down his pants, and, confirming he was a Jew, they beat him, yelling “zhyd”. However, there were other Ukrainians who helped Iosif hide and he managed to escape several raids.

In July 1943, Iosif was hiding in the wheat fields and he was discovered by the partisans of the Kirov Regiment of the Second Ukrainian Partisan Brigade. They took Iosif with them to the Shabelyanskiy Forest and he learned to use a rifle and became a partisan in the troop led by Ivan Ivanovich. He proceeded to serve during the battles when the Soviet troops advanced to break the Nazi’s defense in the Illinetsky and Pliskovetsky districts. Defending Iosif’s home with the partisans opened another door for him: it introduced Iosif to a lovely girl named Sonya Karlitskaya. She was only fourteen but did her part by taking care of the injured.

Iosif also met another pivotal individual, a meeting that would eventually lead him to finding his family again. Marko, the partisans’ cook, was from the village of Troytzkoye, the Chkalovsky district. Back home, he shared his house with an evacuated family, whose identity was near and dear to Iosif’s heart – his parents and sister. After the partisan were disbanded, Marko joined the army and fought on the Eastern front where he lost a leg and then returned to his village. He told his experiences to Iosif’s family and, when Iosif’s father showed him a photo of his son, Marko confirmed that the young man he knew as Ivan was actually Iosif Fridman. Iosif’s brother, Mikhail, who during the war had been evacuated to from Kiev to Ural where he finished medical school and began working as a doctor, eventually found Sonya in Kiev and further confirmed that Iosif and Ivan was the same person.

In January of 1944, the partisans joined the Soviet army. Iosif asked to go to the front. As a former partisan, Iosif was assigned to a scouting unit. These were the people with whom he celebrated victory in the Alps. Their regiment was involved with the liberation of Ukraine, Moldavia, Romania, Hungary, Austria, and Yugoslavia. For the courage Iosif showed in the battles for Romania and his involvement in the capture of enemy soldiers for information, Iosif was awarded a “Za Otvagu” [For Bravery] medal, one of the highest military awards. For his participation in the battles of Transylvania and breaking Nazis defenses in Lake Balaton, Iosif received the Order of Glory Third Class. For Budapest, Iosif received the Order of the Red Star. He also bears the Order of the “Otechestvennaya Voina” [Order of the Patriotic War] and many other medals.

In 1947, he came home. He found Sonya and they were married four years later. In 1948, Iosif also started at the correspondence department of the Kiev Polytechnic Institute, however he was accused of using falsified documents during the Nazi occupation and he was expelled in 1952. It took a lot of effort and energy for the court to rule that Ivan Vinnichuk and Iosif Fridman is the same person. Iosif became Iosif again and, with great difficulty, Iosif found work as a draftsman. Finally, Iosif was allowed to continue his studies at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute and he graduated in 1956.

Iosif is a former partisan, soldier of the Eastern Front, and veteran of WWII. Today, he lives happily with his beloved wife Sonya, his daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter and grandson-in-law in New York.

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