In just a few days, Kobryn was overrun and occupied by forces of the Third Reich. The world was
crumbling, and 20 year old Chaim's strength, courage, and perseverance were about to be tested. German forces quickly established their rule in Kobryn and built a labor camp a few miles outside of the town. Eventually, Chaim was chosen to report to the labor camp,
but Shimshon volunteered to take Chaim's place - thus putting into motion the first action that would eventually save Chaim's life.
The Germans' next step in the subjugation of Kobryn's Jews, was to build two ghettos (A for those able to work and B for those ill or unable to work) to house all of Kobryn's 7,000 Jews. Chava and her five children reported to the B ghetto where they lived a harsh and hungry life. In the spring of 1942, Chaim, with several other young men, was selected to be a slave laborer on a horse drive to Zhytomyr in northern Ukraine (a distance of about 250 miles).
The drive completed, Chaim and the other slave laborers were imprisoned in an old barn and guarded by Ukranian sentries. A sympathetic Ukranian guard warned Chaim and his fellow prisoners that the Germans meant to execute them in the morning and that he (the guard) would turn his back during the night and allow them to escape. Chaim believed the guard - a few other Jews did too - but most of the imprisoned Jews found the guard's story implausable. Chaim and a few friends did as the Ukranian suggested and escaped the barn and hid in the nearby woods. The next morning the Germans shot all the remaining Jewish prisoners. That was the last time Chaim would allow himself to fall into German hands.
Now 250 miles from home, without food or equipment, Chaim and his friends decided to return to Kobryn. Traveling cross-country, and only at night to avoid the German patrols, Chaim followed the north star and walked home.
Arriving in Kobryn, Chaim was shocked to learn that the Germans had liquidated the B ghetto while he was away - his mother, brothers, and sisters were all dead. Not knowing where to go, and still having his freedom, Chaim walked out to the labor camp where Shimshon was imprisoned - only to find that that camp, too, had been liquidated. Now completely alone - his family murdered - Chaim decided to head to the forest to find the partisans - and do the only thing left for him to do - FIGHT. It was the second time a good decision led to saving his life.
Because he was a Jew, Chaim was rejected by many partisan groups - but eventually he found a unit that would accept him. He was trained in demolitions and participated in many actions in the Baronovich area - blowing up trains and German installations. Chaim's atrad (a partisan unit) was routinely supplied by the Russians and in 1944 the atrad was fully incorporated into the Red Army. Chaim, now 23 years old, found himself fighting the Germans as an anti-aircraft gunner in the advancing Russian army.
The war's end found Sergeant Chaim in Berlin with the winning armies. Discharged from the Red Army in 1946, Chaim returned to Kobryn where he was allowed to repatriate as a Polish citizen. As his search for any Jews in Kobryn was fruitless, Chaim decided to return to Berlin and the woman he came to know there. While in Berlin, Chaim, fell under the influence of the black market and began a career as a black marketeer dealing in currency. He was eventually caught by the KGB and held prisoner in a basement for more than 6 months. A sympathetic and Jewish Russian Major released Chaim with the agreement that Chaim would emigrate or else face deportation to Siberia and the gulag. Chaim, once again recognizing good advice when he heard it, went to the Jewish agency and applied for immigration assistance.
In 1950, Chaim landed at New York with $500 in his pocket, a few words of English, and every immigrant's dream in his heart. America wasn't Chaim's first choice - Australia was - but because he had no skilled trade, Australia denied him entry. A Jewish agency found him lodgings on Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn and a job in the garment district. Before three years had passed, Chaim, one of only two Jewish survivors from Kobryn, Poland was a partner in his own business, married a woman he met on a blind date, and was living the American dream.
Chaim's family quickly grew, a son born in 1955, another son in 1957, and a surprise son in 1966. Chaim's business also grew - and in 1980, he sold his business and the building it was in to a toy wholesaler and retired. In 1990 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer - he had surgery and made a complete recovery (remember the meaning of his name). He was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer during the early spring of 2009 and passed away peacefully in June 2009 at the age of 90. Chaim had lived a long life - longer than he had ever thought he would. He often remarked that every day he lived past his 20th birthday was by the grace of a guardian angel that protected him.
Chaim Baruch Yerucham Murawiec was my father.