Khonya Epstein

Ghetto Survivor (Belarus)
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Khonya Epstein was born on November 15, 1928 and lived in Belarus, his family was an ordinary working family involved in shoe production. Khonya’s mother was a housekeeper and his family consisted of an older sister, an older brother, and a younger brother. He was thirteen years old, did very well in school, and was brought to the capital of Belarus as a reward for his academic success. Khonya had many family members on both of his parents’ sides; they were involved in various professions and fields such as mechanics, architecture, polytechnic university, military school, and the army. There was little Jewish tradition and practices among the family due to strong Soviet influence. He was good friends with his Belarus neighbors, Russian Christians, and other Jewish people.

In the Ghetto, Shepelevichi, Kruglyansky district, Mogilevskaya oblast, Belarus, he was together with his parents since July, 1941. Contact with the non-Jewish population was forbidden, shops were closed, and strict police surveillance was set. In late August, the Nazis came to his village. On October 29, 1941, the Nazis killed his father and uncle. On November 15, 1941, policemen kicked out all of the residents from their houses, lined them up, and led them to the edge of the shtetl for the execution. Then, at the edge of shtetl, the column was stopped and sorted. His mother, grandmother, brother, sister and a few other families were left aside, not to be executed. His mother kneeled to the policeman not to kill him; it was a miracle that he stayed alive. All of the other people were taken to the edge of the woods and killed. Among them were women and teenagers of all ages, who were his classmates.

During the next several days, the mass killing of teenage boys continued. Many people died from starvation. During the daily police control, the policemen confiscated clothing and beat adults, demanding their jewelry. There were 20-30 people packed in each house. They slept on the bare floor without any bedding. Thus, it was a horrible and starved life in the Ghetto. In the middle of March, 1942, we they were relocated in two big houses surrounded by a fence which was 3 meters high and barbed with wire. Each room consisted of 20 people. It was a terrible time of famine. Policemen checked the prisoners every evening.

On June 15, 1942 at 3 am, the Ghetto was destroyed. Looking through the window, his mother saw a group of Nazis coming. She immediately understood what was going to happen. While they broke down the fence, his mother pushed him into the hole under the ground. However, the policemen found him. Despite their efforts, gunfire, and grenades, they could not get him out. He got out from under the ground on the fourth day. He was raggedy, almost naked and without shoes. Through the crack in the foundation, he saw the pouring rain and a policeman. There was a ravine near the ghetto; he jumped into it and ran away, hiding in the bushes. The policemen were unable to see him. Drenched to the bone and exhausted, he came into the house of a peasant that was located in the village of Ogloblya four kilometers away from the Ghetto.  He fed him and dressed him. He was only 13 years old. Then, he started his path. His Jewish appearance did not allow him to visit villages.  He hid in the forest for a long time and ate berries until he met the partisans. There were a few teenage girls and an elderly lady in the same predicament as Khonya in the group. For a long time, he could not recover from his traumatic experiences. His work included taking care of horses and assisting in the kitchen. In total, 49 of his close relatives and family members were killed by the Nazis.

Khonya served well in the army until 1951. He finished his general education very successfully with good grades. He worked for 25 years as a school director at a large school consisting of 120 teachers, it was a difficult job. He attended many seminars, published many articles, and received many awards, including best teacher award. Khonya’s daughter graduated from Saint Petersburg School of Finance and Economics. He immigrated soon after his daughter to the United States. Khonya is soon meeting one of his excellent students from his teaching days in Russia and is turning 85 years old.

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