The commander and the Rifle
by Chana Berman-Savitsky
As partisans in the forests, we lived under emergency conditions. There were clear rules as to conduct while on guard duty. Whoever was caught sleeping on guard duty was arrested immediately, and executed the following morning in front of the entire company. The guard was completely and solely responsible for his rife and it was forbidden to give it to another person, not even to members of the guard inspectors or to his superior officer. Whoever broke this explicit instruction was also condemned to death.
Mother, of blessed memory, was on night guard duty. The officers’ inspection team of the guards, including our commander, approached the guard post. Hearing their footsteps, she demanded the password. The commander approached her and in a sudden movement, forcefully wrested the rifle from her hands and ordered her to return to camp and to wait for him beside his tent. Mother didn’t even have a chance to try to retrieve her rifle. It is impossible to describe in words the feeling of distress which accompanied Mother on her way back to the camp. She was tormented by questions, and only her tears gave her some relief. The waiting for the return of the commander only served to increase her tension and fear. Upon his return, he gave her a spade and ordered her to dig her own grave behind his tent. Mother noticed that the commander was extremely drunk. She began to dig her grave, all the time tears pouring from her eyes.
At dawn the incident became known to the inhabitants of the camp. Several adults among the non-Jews approached her and encouraged her:
"Dig very slowly, and save your strength”. "What will become of my children?” my mother asked them and they replied: ”We must wait until the commander wakes up sober”.
We, the children, knew nothing of this. We woke up and did not find Mother near us. The sky was cloudy and a summer rain fell intermittently, refreshing the vegetation. For us, this was a depressing rain. When we saw that Mother was not returning from guard duty as usual, we began to suspect that something was wrong. No one said anything to us. We were left with our questions and our anxiety. A few hours later, Mother returned and told us what had happened.
When the commander woke up, his father and the non-Jewish adults convinced him, that for the sake of the children, he should act beyond the call of duty and rescind the death sentence which he had pronounced on Mother.
Yes. It was the vodka which had gone to the commander’s head, and had led him to put Estherka the Jewess through such a trial.