Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Miriam Brysk - February 7, 2004

Creating a Hospital

Around this time, the Russian high command in the, in the forest decided that it was in...it was completely inefficient for my father to run all over the forest to find some wounded partisan and because he didn't have stuff on him that he couldn't do anything for them. What they needed to do was to establish a forest hospital. So the high command blessed it and my father together with his Dr. Rosenzweig who uh, survived um, they went scouting where to set up this hospital. And they found a little island in the swamps, and maybe it was a mile by half a mile, I mean, not a big island. And it was totally surrounded by, by really leachy swamps. And they said this would be a safe place because it would--it's not easy get--to find, and, and it's not easy to give away, and it's hard to cross, and so that--this was picked. And so they built some ziemlankas and a hospital in, in this--on the island. They, they uh, set up one--an operating room. This is the middle of nowhere. No...

What kind of supplies did they have?

They, they--and they were gathering several Jewish doctors and each of them was told to bring as much out from the ghetto as possible. And they had several actions where they raided ho...hospitals in small towns and they took instruments. And they amassed whatever they could and found some Jewish nurses. The whole hospital was run by Jews. And there in the middle of nowhere on this little island was a hospital. The operating room was basically a board on top of something on which the patient lay. They uh, you know, the, the women who worked in the hospital--the hospital was entirely--the only non-Jew in the hospital was the, the Russian commander of the hospital. He had to be a Russian. The first commander was who we called uh, what did we call him? Yamputz, which is a derogatory Yiddish word--I can't translate. He would get drunk and, you know, curse the Jews and want to rape the women. But he was, he was otherwise harmless. And uh, so if somebody would be brought to the hospital and they would be uh, you know, taken on a stretcher. And they--we didn't have a bridge so they would put logs on, on the, on the, on the swamp. And so they had to be good at, you know, maneuvering without falling into the leachy swamps. They would bring the, the, the partisan in. There were two other doctors uh, with my father there. And uh, the man who became my closest friend and who uh, was a remarkable man was, was Dr. Rakower, Julius Rakower. He, by the way, he was--went to medical school in Paris--came back. He was a boy in one of the ghetto's towns; I forgot what, what town it was now. He, he had, had married this beautiful woman and they had this son and he was the most gifted, beautiful child you could imagine. And then there was news they were going to come and have another slaughter in that town. So he went crazy. And he, and he found a group of Jews who had made a hiding place and after begging and begging and whatever else, they, they said they would take them, the wife and child and him. He went back to tell them how excited he was. The wife could not stand the thought of how they were going to kill them, and she poisoned herself and the little boy. When he went to the slaughter he wanted to die, he wanted to die. He lay down in the mud and they told him to stand up, they needed him and, and he survived. Shortly thereafter he uh, he was uh, co...contacted by some partisans and, and he uh, he left the ghetto. And he was with us in, in the hospital. My father was the only surgeon. So as far as the Russians concerned, he was the only one that mattered because he's the only one who knew how to use a knife. And so they bring this partisan and there was no anesthetic, he needed to be operated on. My father was very muscular, he would just physically knocked him out. You know, the, the women would, the women would, would uh, boil, you know, pieces of clo...you know, cotton and, and, and other things and the instruments they were boiled, they were placed, whatever it was that needed to be done. Very often it was intestines, okay. My father was a--ac...actually a, a, a gastric surgeon. So, you know, open up, take the intestines out, you cut out the pa...bad parts, you reconnect the good ends. I, I watched every surgery--all but the abortions I watched. And [pause] then they would--outside of the, the place where they operated which was separated by sheets was a whole row of, of beds, kind of ziemlanka kind of beds and were the people who were recuperating from their surgeries. And they tried to separate out those that had infectious diseases so that--to a separate facility so that they wouldn't die of that. Although most who died did die of infectious diseases--most commonly of uh, of uh, gan...gangrene.

What abortions?

Abortions? The Russians liked to screw and they made girls pregnant. And they didn't need pregnant girls in the forest, so they sent them to the hospital for safe abortions.

These are women partisans.

Women partisans or women not partisans. And they were brought to the hospital where my father performed a safe abortion and then they went back to whatever. Sometimes they came back more than once.

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