THE HEROIC FALL OF ASAEL BIELSKI
By: Meir-Joseph Itzkovitz
56 years have now passed since the fall of Asael Bielski on the field of battle against the Germans. 56 years since Asael completed his last revenge and fell as a fighter of courage and daring, seeing with his own eyes the destruction of the Third Reich.
I draw from the wellspring of memories…
I met Asael twice:
The first meeting was impersonal.
The second meeting was personal, very close, face to face.
The first - when I fled from the Lida Ghetto to the forest, to the secret place where the legendary Bielski brothers were hiding. Stories and legends had reached the prisoners in the ghetto about the Jews who were fighting and avenging , spreading terror and death among the enemies of Israel. These rumours raised morale, strengthened the spirit and awakened hope.
I arrived at the Bielski Camp without weapons and I was considered a "malbush" - the nickname given to all newcomers who arrived without weapons. To my surprise, in the camp I met Leah Tikatin, a student of mine from the Hebrew school "Tarbut" in Horodok, near Molodatzina. In addition, I also met Chayaleh, another friend from my student years in the Teachers' Seminary of Dr. Tsharnow in Vilna.
Life carried on under the shadow of constant state of alertness.
In the camp I heard the name of the young commander - Asael, for the first time. As a Hebrew teacher, I had delved a little into the roots of words and I wondered how a village Jew came to have such a classical Hebrew name. This was not a name which was passed down as an "inheritance" as is usual, but a name which contains substance. I could not find an answer.
I received the explanation and answer at a later date, when I heard about him and his courage, about his fighting skill, his operations of revenge and his national pride. I thought to myself: his name suits him. Later on I studied the Tanach and searched to find where the name Asael is mentioned. And indeed, in the Book of Samuel, II, in the second chapter 2, it is told at length of those loyal to the House of David - the Kingdom of Judah and about Avner ben Ner of the House of Saul, those loyal to the Kingdom of Israel and among other things it says:
"And Avner and the people of Israel were defeated by David's servants and there were three sons of Tzruyah: Yoav, Avishai and Asael"
And about Asael it is written:
"Asael was lightfooted as the deer of the field" .
This quality helped him greatly in the success of his military missions which required courage. From his friends, I heard a great deal about Asael as kind-hearted and sensitive to the suffering of others and about his military prowess. When he was a recruit in the Red Army, he was a good friend to his fellow soldiers.
Later on I left the Bielski Battalion and moved to the Baltit Battalion, near which the Kirow Brigade Headquarters was established. Many times I heard words of praise from the men of the Brigade Headquarters for the great Commander Asael .
My second encounter with Asael was personal, face to face.
With the liberation of Lida and its surroundings from the Germans and the establishment of local government, my life partner, Esther, was appointed secretary and typist in the NKVD. Thanks to her I received an administrative job with the man responsible for the Passport Department. In this way, I received an exemption from being drafted into the army.
Partisans looked for and found jobs which required them to live near their places of work, which enabled them to avoid serving in the Soviet Army. Tuvia Bielski and his brother Zos received positions which required their staying on site, while Asael did not look for such work, and so he received a call-up notice and was sent to the front. Before he left for the war, he appeared before us in all his glory. He came to say goodbye to the love of his life, Chayaleh.
I approached him and tried to convince him not to join up. I pleaded with him that he had fought enough together with the Russians against the Germans and had done his part, and now it was time for a break. As he was a former Polish citizen, he had the right to return to his homeland, which was now liberated. From there, he could continue to Eretz Yisrael, as many before him had done. I begged him to listen to me. My words had no effect on him. He was steadfast in his decision - to continue to fight the Germans.
His words, which continue to echo in my ears to this day, I remember well:
"I am not prepared to accept that the "Goyim" will say that one of the Bielski brothers was afraid to fight and deserted".
As I mentioned, this was my second meeting and sadly the last with Asael.
In April 1980 a memorial service was held in the Fighters and Partisans Museum in Beit Jabotinsky in Tel Aviv, to commemorate 35 years since the fall of the renowned partisan commander, Asael Bielski.
Many partisans from the Bielski Battalion came to the memorial, including his widow, Mrs. Chaya Gershuni, his brother Zosia and his wife Sonia, Malbin Lazar, Dr. Eisler, Herzl Nochimovsky and myself.
His daughter, Asaela, lit a memorial candle.