THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER
Roger Fredinburg – Host
30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program
12-10-1997 Sixth Program in Series
Guests: Author, Larry Sutin with Parents, Jack & Rochelle Sutin
JACK and ROCHELLE: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance
ISBN-10: 1555975038 and ISBN-13: 978-1555975036
Roger: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome! I am Roger Fredinburg, radio’s regular guy! This evening we’re continuing with Part 6 of our ongoing series, The Holocaust: We Must Remember. Fascinating stories, just some wonderful history! I’ve learned so much the last several weeks and have been brought, literally, to tears so many times. It’s a difficult subject, I know; but, that’s the whole purpose, ladies and gentlemen, to ensure the kinds of tragedies and horrible inhuman acts that were perpetrated upon mankind during World War Two never happen again.
Today I’ve been reading a book that has brought me to laughter and tears a number of times, written by a son about his mother and father who were Jewish resistors in Poland during the time of the war. Fascinating story! I’d like to bring these folks forward and introduce them. First, the son, Larry Sutin, who wrote the book, “Jack and Rochelle: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance.” Larry, welcome to the show!
Larry Sutin: Hi, thank you! Thanks for having us!
Roger: It’s really a pleasure to have you here, sir! And welcome to Jack and Rochelle Sutin who are the subjects of the book! Jack, Rochelle, hello!
Rochelle and Jack Sutin: Hello, hello!
Roger: It’s a pleasure to have you folks aboard! Larry, first of all, you wrote the book because of the compelling stories you heard throughout your life as a child, is that right?
Larry Sutin: Right! I had grown up hearing the stories of my parents’ childhoods and their work as partisans during the war, their stuggle, I should say. There were some stories that were very happy; but, also stories of tragedy. It all added up to what I thought was not only a touching story; but, important history. The fact that there was Jewish resistance during the war is something people are still relatively unaware of. My parents had the good fortune to find themselves in a situation where they could resist. Many Jews did not have that good fortune. They did find themselves in that situation after a great deal of misery and they resisted! They also fell in love during the war so there was that aspect, too. There’s a genuine love story of what I thought was depth, not just because they’re my parents. While I think readers of the book
confirm that, I think there is something about the nature of their love story that is quite unique as well.
Roger: I found it rather facinating, Larry, that a lot sons of WW II heros have gone on to write books about the historical events. I think you’ve done a wonderful job with the book! I’d like to meet your folks in the same vein the book is written in. I’d like to talk to your mother first. Rochelle, hello!
Rochelle Sutin: Hello!
Roger: Rochelle, where were you born and where did you grow up?
Rochelle Sutin: I was born in a little border town between Poland and Russia. It was called *STOLCHA* . For my whole life, I lived there!
Roger: And Jack, how about you? Where were you from?
Jack Sutin: I was actually born in *STOLCHA*, too. When I was six or seven years old my parents moved to a neighboring city called *MIR*.
Roger: So, did you guys know each other as kids?
Rochelle Sutin: After the Soviet army occupied us in 1939, we went to the same high school in *STOLCHA*. We knew each other, just like you know all the kids. There was no special relationship, nothing between us, we just knew each other as kids going to the same high school.
Roger: No love at first sight?
Rochelle Sutin: No love at first sight!
Roger: Ha, ha, ha! How old were the two of you when the war broke out?
Rochelle Sutin: I was fourteen.
Roger: Wow! How long were you able to stay together with your family until all hell broke loose?
Rochelle Stutin: My father was taken right away in a couple of days. They picked up the most prominent Jews in town and took them away. They told us they would be holding them as hostages. Later on I found out they were killed the same day. They told them to dig their own graves and they were stoned to death! They didn’t use bullets on them.
Roger: Oh, Lord! You didn’t know that at the time?
Rochelle Sutin: No, no! As a matter of fact, the guy who arrested him came back a couple of times and asked for his clothing, for winter clothing, for his medications, supposedly because he needed it! So, we were completely….
Roger: So you had a mother and siblings?
Rochelle Sutin: Yes, I had a mother and two sisters. I was the oldest.
Roger: Jack, how about you?
Jack Sutin: I had a mother and father; but, no brothers or sisters. Our family consisted of about sixteen people, uncles, cousins and so on.
Roger: So, you didn’t have any brothers and sisters. Were your parents assaulted initially or taken away?
Jack Sutin: When the first liquidation of the ghetto started, my mother was a dentist. Originally they told her they wouldn’t kill her because they needed dentists for the population and the German army. Somehow the local police managed to get into the house and they killed her. My father and I ran away before the second liquidation.
Roger: Ran away to where?
Jack Sutin: To the woods, the“underground”.
Roger: People are not familiar with resistors, really their stories have not been told in any great way, in this country especially. At that time you were more hiding than resisting?
Rochelle Sutin: That’s right! The beginning of the groups in the woods were the Jews that ran away after the first liquidation and the second. Then there were Russian army personnel that
were treated very badly and they ran away from the camps to the wood, too. They were just people who had to run away to save their lives.
Roger: So Jack, you were out in the woods. Rochelle, where we you at this time?
Rochelle Sutin: I was in the ghetto.
Roger: You were in the ghetto?
Rochelle Sutin: Yes.
Roger: So, they hadn’t taken any of you yet, your mother and your sisters?
Rochelle Sutin: The ghetto was formed after the New Year of 1942.
Roger: The end of the year in 1942?
Rochelle Sutin: Yes.
Roger: So you also ended up out in the wood, so to speak. Maybe you can help me, how did you end up there?
Rochelle Sutin: They put us all in the ghetto. Then they started liquidating the ghetto the day after Yom Kippur in 1942.
Roger: Define “liquidating”. What does that mean?
Rochelle Sutin: When we woke up in the morning, the ghetto was surrounded with SS and local police and nobody could get out. They let out a couple dozen people out to work. I don’t know the idea behind that. Right away they started putting them on the truck, the graves were dug the night before, they took them to the graves and told them to undress, then they were machine-gunned. Everyone was standing and then were “liquidated.” That took place almost a whole day.
Roger: That’s a cold term, “liquidated.” I guess it is expressive. How were you able to avoid being liquidated?
Rochelle Sutin: I was working at a sawmill at that time. I had to come out to the entrace of the ghetto every morning where a German would come out and take us to the factory. I walked out from the house and understood right away what was going on. I ran home and talked to my mother and two sisters so they knew what was coming. I don’t know how I did it. I had double feelings. First, I thought I should go with them and stay with them. Then, I guess the will to live was stronger. I said goodbye to them and I went to the place where they picked us up and they took us to the sawmill and we worked.
Larry Sutin: You should clarify, it was forced labor at the hand of the Nazis,, making wooden planks. They weren’t working at a private sawmill.
Rochelle Sutin: Yes, forced labor.
Roger: So, first they put eveyone in the ghetto, then began liquidating and worked people they thought could provide some service. So, you’re working in a sawmill. At what point did you decide you couldn’t go back home?
Rochelle Sutin: They didn’t take us back to the ghetto the same day because they were still going through with police and dogs searching out for survivors. For a couple of days they took us to some undisclosed place and kept us there overnight. I was sure, when we were working that day at the sawmill, as it happened the highway from the ghetto to the graves was close by the sawmill. All day long I heard the trucks coming and the screams and crying of the people being taken to the graves. Every so often I could hear machine guns rat-a-tat-tat! Then it got quiet and new buses were coming by.
I’ll never forget the scene when the buses were coming back to the ghetto to pick up new people. The local population was standing on the sidewalk clapping their hands!
Roger: The Polish folks?
Rochelle Sutin: They were Byelorussian Polish.
Roger: They were clapping as the trucks went by?
Rochelle Sutin: They were applauding the empty trucks!
Roger: You’re kidding me!
Rochelle Sutin: No, I’m not kidding you!
Roger: But, they knew that those people were being taken to a place where they were shot and killed?
Rochelle Sutin: Absolutely! They waited for this! As soon as they liquidated a ghetto, the Germans went through. There was nothing there because they took everything of value before we went to the ghetto. First the SS and the police went through the homes and then they let the regular population go in and take miserable little things like pillows and blankets. It was like a celebration in town! They didn’t take us back to the ghetto until it was all cleaned out. There were a couple of homes where they kept the survivors.
Roger: Was it your take, at the time, that they were celebrating and applauding because they wanted the Jews killed?
Rochelle Sutin: Absolutely!
Roger: But, weren’t Jewish people just part of the community?
Rochelle Sutin: Most of them had their sons and brothers in the police. They knew what was coming up!
Roger: But, they weren’t doing it for their own survival,you’re saying they were actually enjoying this?
Rochelle Sutin: They enjoyed it, yes!
Roger: So, the community, the people of your town would stand there on the sidewalk, alongside the road, and clap as the trucks taking Jews off the be killed went by taking Jews off to be killed?
Rochelle Sutin: Yes, yes.
Roger: Jack, while all this was going on, what were you doing out in the woods?
Jack Sutin: They organized a little group of working people. It was late in the year, around September, and we had to build a shelter for the winter months. We built a bunker about the size of 12 x 16 feet.
One evening I was sleeping and I had a dream; my mother was talking to me and she said that Rochelle would come to the woods and that we would remain together and stay together. When I woke up I didn’t know if it was something to take seriously or it was just a foolish dream. I decided to build an extra space for Rochelle. To make the story short, the miracle happened when she ran away to the woods, she was in the woods for quite awhile and finally ran into a Jewish partisan girl who knew me, she knew I was waiting for Rochelle, and she brought her to our bunker. Since then we’ve stayed together, fighting together and surviving together.
Roger: I get chills thinking about this vision you had, Jack! It’s not typical; but, it’s fascinating! Rochelle, at some point in time you went into the woods. What did you first do?
Rochelle Sutin: I thought my family was killed the same day as the liquidation. I didn’t know that they hid with some other families in a hole under a house, under a sofa. They were there for about a week. Everyday they (the SS) would bring new people that they missed the first time, with dogs to sniff them out! One day, a week after the original liquidation, a guy who I went to school with came to the sawmill when I was working. He called me a name because it was not a good thing if he talked to me. He knew my family. He said, “I just walked by… your whole family, your mother, your sisters, your aunts and cousins…. they caught them all today just sitting there.” The way it worked was they’d combine all the people they found through the day until about sunset each day. Then they’d put them on a truck and take them again to the mass grave. So, I knew that my family was killed a week after the original liquidation. After that, I knew they were going to kill the rest of us, too! I had been the provider, bringing little pieces of wood for the stove and what things I could scrounge. Now I had nobody to take care of or worry about. I knew they would be killed.
The sawmill was near the river *YEMEN* surrounded by forest.. One foggy morning when we came to the sawmill to work, about 5 minutes before the machines started we could go to the outhouse and “do our job”. I worked with another Jewish girl and I told her that’s what I planned to do if she would agree. She said, “Yes, I’ll go with you!” So we went to the outhouse when it was very foggy. When the whistle blew to call us back to work, we got under the barbed wire and started running to the river that wasn’t too far. As soon as we started running I could hear machine guns firing. Fortunately, they didn’t have any trucks or jeeps. The police were chasing after us on motorcycles an bicycles so we took off our jackets and shoes, jumped in the river, and swam. The bullets were splashing all around us as we crossed the river to the other side where there was forest. We ran fast to the forest! That was in September, two weeks after Yom Kippur. I don’t remember the date. At night there was a good frost already; but, the days were still a little bit warm.
Roger: And there you were; wet, cold, hungry and lost and alone!
Rochelle Sutin: Yes! At night everything used to get frozen! We couldn’t even move! We were in like an “ice suit”! In the morning we tried to stay in the sun to thaw out.
Roger: You weren’t worried about the Nazis following you at that point?
Rochelle Sutin: They were following us; but, if they didn’t catch us the first day, at that time, they were not allowed into the woods, especially after two Jewish girls. I’m sure they thought the local population would take care of us!
Roger: I’ve got to take a commercial break. You all just hang tight for a minute and we’ll come back and continue this fascinating story. We’ll be right back!
Roger: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back! I am Roger Fredinburg, radio’s regular guy, continuing our series The Holocaust: We Must Remember. The book this evening is “Jack and Rochelle: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance” about Jack and Rochelle Sutin, edited by their son, Lawrence Sutin who is also with us tonight.
Rochelle, we’re talking about your story about the woods and your frozen clothes and I can almost see myself there on the river with you, running through the woods into hiding! Apparently, they chased you for a day and then gave up, right?
Rochelle Sutin: Yes, yes! I forgot to tell you a very important thing, that friend of mine from school who supposedly saw my family sitting there when he walked by said the told him, ‘Go to the sawmill, Rochelle is working there and please tell her that today’s the day we’re going to be killed. Tell her to take *NOKOMA* ” That means “take revenge! Their last wish was on my mind all the way when I was in the Partisans!
Roger: I think what we need to do is fill in a gap. The ghetto is where Jews were forced to live, right? So, they already had the Jews segregated and they sent some off to the sawmill, to work camps, and they began what you call the liquidation. Some people, Jack, yourself and others were not just going to sit there and die, you headed off into the wildernes for survival. If you had stayed, you’d be dead, so you didn’t really have a choice! What I’m trying to find out is why they didn’t follow you into the woods? Why didn’t they go into the woods and pull out the resistors?
Rochelle Sutin: Well, they were very busy! The front was going so fast! The German army was going at high speed to Moscow! These were the good days for them! It wasn’t organized resistance yet. It was just groups of people who would be killed by the Germans, just moving around in the woods not knowing what to do with themselves, just surviving from day to day.
Roger: So, you were with this other girl from the sawmill. What was her name?
Rochelle Sutin: Tania. Her last name, I don’t remember.
Roger: So, how long were you in the woods until you came across somebody?
Rochelle Sutin: The next day we were hungry. We didn’t eat for two days! We saw a farmer in the field and we knew right away that he saw us, who were were; but, we had no choice, we had to eat something. We asked him for something to eat and he said, “I have nothing to give you; but, I have some eggs.” and he gave each of us an egg. We made a little hole in the shell and sucked it out so fast…. it was just a second!
Roger: I’ll bet it was the best egg you ever ate!
Rochelle Sutin: Yes, the best egg I ever ate! Then he told us which direction to go. He’d heard some Russian partisans were forming resistance groups and told us to go there and maybe they would accept us.
Roger: What is the term”partisan”? What does that mean?
Rochelle Sutin: That’s a Russian name.
Larry Sutin: It’s a resistance fighter or a guerilla fighter.
Roger: All right. So, he pointed you in a direction, you had your egg and off you went! Then what?
Rochelle Sutin: We came to an isolated kind of farmer deep in the woods. Sure enough, when we came there, he didn’t have to ask us who we were, we told him we were told Russian partisans were in the area and we wanted to join the resistance movement and fight in any capacity to help with their cause. Sure enough, that evening a group of partisan came over!
We were barefooted, we didn’t have any shoes and our feet were bleeding and scratched from the frost and the creeks we’d walked through. We asked if they’d take us in, we’d be willing to do anything for them to help them in their cause! This group wasn’t so bad! They accepted us and gave us shoes from dead Russian soldiers; but no pairs, I had two left shoes without laces! It wa a pleasure to walk on the frozen ground not barefooted!
We walked for hours until we came to their camp in the middle of the woods. There was a Jewish girl there named Sonia. She had a protector or boyfriend there. She lived with him and cooked and washed clothes and things like that. I was glad to see another Jewish girl survive! She was a wonderful girl! She lives in Winnipeg and I still see her and correspond with her. In the beginning that was it! We were bringing water from a little well and cooking all night long, all the stuff they used to bring from the farmers; usually grain to make thick soups.
Then trouble started because the other partisans in the group started giving hints that if we wanted to stay, we would have to serve them as sex slaves. We were sitting all night long near the fire, it was already very cold, and they’d come over and say, “Do you want sleep in a little hut? Do you want to have a blanket? Sleep with me!” Of course, we didn’t take up the offer, so we were sitting with our feet near the hot ashes all through the night. We cooked and washed their clothes and did everything they wanted us to do.
Finally, Sonia told us that a lot of them were very unhappy, that they had too many Jewish women there. She said, “They want to get rid of you!” Her boyfriend told her the plan was to call us in and tell us we were sent by the Germans and we were infected with venereal disease, that the Germans sent us to infect the partisans. Then they would shoot us! After this “good news” we didn’t know what to do!
Once it had happened that they brought in a Russian soldier with a woman and he was supposedly wanted to join the group. When she came over with this guy, we were like slaves, we washed and cleaned and cooked for her. Then they told the head of the group that knew where a lot of ammunition and rifles were and they wanted to go show them and bring them back to the group. And they fell for it! So they sent a couple of people with the group with these two newcomers. He was a German spy and when they came to the Germans they told exactly where we were….
Roger: Hold it right there, Rochelle! We’ve got to take a commercial break. We’ll be right back.
Roger: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! We’re talking about, “Jack and Rochelle: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance” in the war, World War II, the big one, the holocaust, folks!
Larry and Jack, we don’t mean to leave you out. It’s just that Rochelle is doing such a wonderful job! Rochelle, you said the German spy had given away the place where you were hiding.
Rochelle Sutin: Yes. One night we were cooking our usual meal and we had a big ladle hanging on a a tree. All of a sudden about 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning we heard something hit the ladle! We heard the machine gun firing. We had a guy standing in front of the camp… what do you call them…?
Larry Sutin: A guard, a sentry.
Rochelle Sutin: Yes, yes! They shot them! We heard the shots then the ladle was knocked down by a bullet so we knew something was cooking! The two of us started running! We didn’t know where we ran; but, we were running away from the sound of the bullets! We were running like this for a couple of days. We didn’t have any idea where we were. We kept running deeper and deeper into this wilderness that was the, *BALIVOSKA-PUSHKA*, acres and acres of swampland and woods that was never developed for hundreds of years. We felt that the deeper we went into the wilderness we felt safer.
Then after we ran for a couple of days we came to another little town with a river called the *MOOSHER* River. There was a little house where the guy made his living ferrying people from one side of the river to the other. We came to his house and told him what happened. Ususally the people over there were very friendly to the partisans. He said there were some partisans coming in the evening but they weren’t too friendly, they were a mean bunch of people and they don’t like the Jews. ( That’s something new?) Anyway, we didn’t have a choice. It got dark and soon enough the partisans showed up. They were called *PARA—* because in the Russian army they were parachutists. They were very well armed with pistols and machine guns. The farmers started giving them food and a lot of vodka. Then they started pouring vodka for the two of us to drink. They told us right out that they had no use for us, to drink the vodka because they were going to shoot us and if we were drunk, we wouldn’t feel the bullets! Well, we didn’t drink the vodka. There were pots of flowers and bushes at the house and they got too drunk to watch us when we spilled the vodka into the pots. As soon as the evening came, they took us outside and told us to run to the river. The river wasn’t frozen yet; but, it strong enough to hold up a person. Again, we were barefooted and we started running to cross the river. The machine guns were going and i was aking Tania, “Are you hit? Are you alive?” She said, “no.” I don’t know if they were too drunk to shoot us or they just wanted to scare us.
Anyway, we ran to the other side of the river and we found another farmer. The farmer let us into the haystack where he kept the cows and pigs and there was a lot of hay. He told us we could go in there and sleep. Do you want me to go on or do you want to talk to Jack?
Roger: This is really a compelling story, Rochelle. I don’t think people here these kind of stories. They make movies like that today and people pay to see them. You must have been scared to death!
Rochelle Sutin: That’s not the description! We were just waiting to be shot, hoping they wouldn’t just wound us and leave us alone, that they would shoot us and we can die right away.
Roger: You wanted to go quick. So, Jack, you’re out in the woods and you haven’t seen Rochelle yet, but you’ve had a vision that she’s coming?
Jack Sutin: Yes, one day someone comes into our bunker and tells me there are two girls a half a mile away and they want to come to our camp, especially to see me! I put on my jacket and took my gun and went to see and sure enough there were two girls. They were dressed in rags and they looked terrible. I recognized Rochelle and I told her I had a special spot for her in our bunker and if she’s interested she can stay with us. Then I found a place for Tania, the other girl. When Rochelle came all my friends in the bunker were surprised! Everybody said my dream was good!
Roger: Your dream came true!
Jack Sutin: Before Rochelle came they were thinking I was going nuts, that I don’t know what I’m talking about!
Roger: So, how many years have you put up with this woman?
Jack Sutin: This New Years it will be 55 years!
Roger: 55 years! Listen, we’ve got to take a news break but stay around. We’ll come back and continue after the news.
Roger: We’re back! Jack and Rochelle Sutin are with us. They are resistors and survivors of the holocaust. Their son, Larry, grew up hearing all these incredible stories! It must have been quite an interesting childhood, Larry, to hear all these stories. Not the typical lifestyle!
Larry Sutin: Definitely not! I definitely felt I was growing up in a very different household than most of my American friends. My parents had a different outlook on things because they had been through this kind of raw horror. Obviously, there were certain fears. Also, there was a kind of fierce love they had towards their family. It was different for them! Having children was a way by which they felt they had survived and affirmed themselves again. So, we were very fiercely loved as children, we felt very protected, very valued! We also felt a great deal was expected of us. I remember my parents telling stories, worried that we wouldn’t believe what we were hearing, they we wouldn’t believe the truth! I can honestly say that from the time I first heard the stories, I believed them. I can’t explain why. I know some children of survivors say the stories were almost too incredible to believe; but, I never had that reaction. One thing I’ll say, again, many children of survivors that I’ve talked to say their parents found it very difficult to talk about those times. My parents were always very open about those times. Without trying to judge those survivors who were silent, I would say, in my case, I was very fortunate they were so open. It was painful to hear the stories; but, I also felt trusted to understand them. We had an openness in our family that allowed those conversations to take place.
Roger: You have to think, as a parent, about the complexities of the issues, how they would effect the mind of a child. It’s got to be real tough to sit down and explain these things. The story is of a unique nature, simply because when you hear a story of escape…people got on a train… people got on a boat… they got out or were liberated at the right moment by troops. You seldom hear about folks who were out there in a resistance mode. As your mother said, her mother’s last message to her was to get revenge!
Larry Sutin: I’ve always felt, and I know my mother has spoken about it, what an incredible weight that must have been! Here she was a young girl, essentially alone in the world and surrounded by hostile Germans and native Poland population! It is incredible to me that she did as much as she did!
I’d like to say about resistance, one thing. My parents always felt very fortunate that they had the opportunity. It’s important to understand that many Jews never had that chance! They weren’t young enough to be put in the forced labor groups to begin with! They weren’t young enough to make their escape because they felt tied to their children and other family members. They had no arms, no training. It was very difficult for a Jewish resistance effort to take root in Poland. As my parents said, for a time Jews were just fleeing to the woods with no idea of what they could do. Given how little in the way of armaments or support they had, what Jewish resistance there was was remarkable, I think!
Roger: Yes. I want to go back to the woods with you, Jack. Your dream had just come true. Rochelle is standing there in front of you and you’ve got a place that you’d previously built especially for her because of this vision you had in your dream where your mother said that Rochelle would come and join you.
Jack Sutin: Yes, that’s right.
Roger: So, Jack, you must have been flabbergasted!
Jack Sutin: Yes! I was very happy about it! I considered the dream as a miracle because people have lots of dreams and nothing ever happens; but this dream was realized, and when she came it changed my life completely!
Until she came I was very reckless. Let me explain something. When we were on our way to the woods none of the Jews who went underground expected to survive. We considered that it was a matter of time; one would get killed earlier, another guy will get killed later. The German front was very well set, deeper and deeper into Russia. We just couldn’t dream that things will happen like they did happen. So, the idea was to take revenge as much as possible. I can’t tell you everything we did—it would take half a day! What we were doing was dynamiting highways, railroads, burning warehouses and sometimes we engaged in fights with German police or small groups of Germans. We were always shooting from behind the trees when they were on the highways. We were 90% successful!
Roger: You weren’t just hiding in the woods, you were actually trying to fight the Germans?
Jack Sutin: Oh, yes! That was our main goal. We expected to get killed sooner or later so the best enjoyment we had was to engage the Germans and we took revenge. I must admit that we took much revenge! I’ll tell you something else., among the Polish-Belarus population there were lots of sons and husbands that were joining the German police.
Of course, your listeners will ask how we survived; what did we eat, what about clothing? We were searching out the families where their sons or husbands were in the police. We were raiding and taking away all the food we could find and lots of clothing. When Rochelle came I outfitted her and she looked like a model!
Rochelle Sutin: Yes, I did!
Roger: Ha, ha, ha!
Now, because you were out on mission, for lack of a better term, did Rochelle stay at your camp? Rochelle, you referred to the women in the book as having “protectors”. In other words, they would settle with a man simply for protection because there were few women in the woods, is that it?
Rochelle Sutin: That’s true! There was a shortage of arms, so the arms that we had were better used by the men than by the women. The women played a different role. We were the ones that cooked the meals and kept the whole thing together. There were very few Jewish women! It was a shortage of women! A woman, especially young girls, what did we know? It was coming to a point, especially in the groups of all Russian or gentile partisans, a woman had to be attached to somebody otherwise you were in trouble, if you know what I mean! With the Jewish guys it was a little bit easier. Still, to be a woman with the partisans wasn’t the most pleasant thing to be!
Roger: You were a sex object and a slave! So, what were your living conditions like at this point?
Rochelle Sutin: When I came to his bunker, it was like a little hole, just the size for a person to slide down, like a child’s slide. Then you wind up in that hole underground. There were about 12 or 14 people there, people that never changed their clothes, never bathed, I mean animals!
Up to this point I was like a wild animal! I slept in the woods in the open air; but, at least it was fresh air! When I got to the bunker, I got nauseous and thought I was going to pass out. So I ran outside then they started the rumor, “oh oh, she must be pregnant!” Then they gave Jack a hard time, “see what you did? You brought in a woman we have to feed and give her a space, and besides that, she must be pregnant!” because I was nauseous to sit there.
Roger: You know, I ended in the book to where you did get pregnant later as you were moving into the city to take a job and looking for a way to move west. That’s where I ended up with the book today.
I want to go back to the woods. How many years were you folks out there doing your resistance missions and living in the woods?
Rochelle Sutin: It was from the middle of 1942, 1943 to the middle of 1944. We were liberated in June or July of 1944.
Roger: How did you know you were liberated?
Rochelle Sutin: The Russian army came in!
Roger: The Germans must have headed for home, huh?
Rochelle Sutin: Oh, yes, the Germans were heading for home! They couldn’t run on the highways because the Russians were pushing through everywhere, so the Germans were running through the woods, the countryside. That’s where the skirmishes got real bad because we were meddling… the Germans were running west and we were right there!
Roger: Reading the book, Rochelle, you have a tremendous sense of humor! It’s quite a statement for somebody who’s been through what you’ve been through in life. One of the funniest things in the book was toward the end of all of this, Jack was going off to fight and you talked him out of it. You addressed him as a woman. Tell us that story.
Rochelle Sutin: I figured I’d put in too much effort and too much time and too much energy to keep him alive! Here I knew the Germans were running, the Russians were almost at our back and I wasn’t going to lose him then! So I said, Hey, listen! We were fighting all these years; but now, in the last day or two before the liberation a lot of our people died in skirmishes with the Germans, a father and son who were our neighbors in town and our commander, *DEZORIN*, the head of our group, was wounded in the leg and had it amputated. I just decided that I’d keep this guy alive. He was worth keeping alive!
Roger: Obviously, he was!
Rochelle Sutin: So, I dressed him in a ladies’ dress with a Russian babushka on his head. He’s tall so I told him to stoop down a little bit because they told the women to go in one direction and the men to stay and fight the Germans. I wasn’t supposed to do that; but, I did it! Anyway, he survived!
Roger: One of the sad things I found reading the book that literally brought me to tears… there are a number of points in the story where humanity it really left at the door, where you became almost animals….
Rochelle Sutin: That’s true.
Roger: … and the couples that were joined in the resistance out in the woods… you say 80 % of them split after the liberation.
Rochelle Sutin: More like 90%
Roger: …. nothing to the relationships.
Rochelle Sutin: Nothing! It was strictly a survival accommodation.
Roger: It just amazes me what people can do when they’re in that kind of duress. You and Jack were one of the few couples who were madly in love, as you describe.
Rochelle Sutin: Yes.
Roger: Then you got pregnant. I didn’t read to the end of the book. How did you end up getting out of Russia?
Rochelle Sutin: Oh, that was a lot of monkey business! We came back to his town, to *MIR*. He looked terrible. He looked sick like he had TB and he was coughing. The nice Russian liberators, right away took the partisans who survived and immediately sent them to the front lines of the Russian army pushing to Berlin. All of those who were sent the army, none of them came back! Not one!
Here I go again! I have to save my guy! I told him, “you look terrible and you look sickly,” of course, they didn’t have any ex-rays or any doctors in the Russian army; but they still wanted to look at him. I told him to go there and cough and look terrible, maybe they’ll let you stay there for awhile. Finally the guy from *MIR * sent him to the main doctor in the town of *BARANOVICH* . Who would “okay” him or tell him he had to go to the army.
So we went to *BARANOVICH* and I thought to myself, this is my last chance to save him! I found out where the main doctor from the army lived and I knocked on his door about 7 o’clock in the morning before he went to the office. I had in my hand a couple of gold coins from the ______________ . I thought to myself that he was going to throw me out and right away and accuse me of bribery. Or it would be okay!
I was lucky! I came in and told him who I was and my husband had TB, was coughing and very weak and wouldn’t stand a chance in the army.
While I was talking he was listening to me and I said, “I’ll thank you beforehand” and I put the coins in his hand. I thought, this is it! Either he’ll throw me out or he’s going to be good.
He saw the coins in his hand and put them in his pocket, so I thought, one battle is over. Not even that, he said, “By the way, my wife needs curtains. If you can get some curtains, I’ll appreciate that.” I said, “Good, I got it!” He signed the papers that Jack’s not fit for the Russian army and that was it! Then we had to run away from the Russian liberators.
Roger: The Russians weren’t killing Jews specifically, they were tyrants.
Rochelle Sutin: They were what?
Rochelle Sutin: We knew when they occupied us in 1939, we knew what they were!
From there we had to run from the Russian zone in Poland so we came to Lodz. I was pregnant there. When the Polish surviviors were coming into the town they were killing them! One night there was a big pogrom not far from Lodz and we thought we’d be all be killed.
I thought, here I’m bring a baby to world and that’s going to go to the grave, too, which eventually it did. I was scared and shaking all night long, in premature labor in my seventh month. Here he would survive; but, over there I didn’t even know I was in labor! I walked to a Polish doctor in a private house. He had one bedroom with a bed where he took his patients. I had a baby boy. He said, “He would survive but he needs a little oxygen and I have nothing to help him.” So he says, “I’m going to put him on the window sill. It’s cooler…he’ll die faster.” He didn’t want me to look at the baby. He said, “Why should you look, you’ll never have him to hold.” So he put the baby… he was laying there all day long near the window. About 5 o’clock in the afternoon he came in and said, “He’s turning blue so he’s going to die pretty soon.”
I remember Jack called the Jewish Committee in Lodz and told them we had a child we wanted to bury. A guy came in and put a cloth around the baby and I watched through the window. We gave him money and he promised to bury the baby in a Jewish cemetery. Now today when I see premature babies only 2 pounds, 3 pounds and they survive, my heart just goes to pieces! I had to bury another child, without a name, in a Lodz cemetery. It’s for me, even now, to talk about it.
Roger: Oh, boy. Jack, how did you feel while this was going on?
Jack Sutin: Exactly the same. In Poland after the liberation the doctors didn’t have any equipment. Don’t forget, it was over 50 years ago. 50 years ago I was told premature babies here in this country didn’t have a chance either.
Roger: We’ve got to take a little break here, Jack. Please stay on the line. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll back with our guests, Jack and Rochelle Sutin and their son, Larry, who has put their story in a wonderful book.
Roger: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. We’re talking to Jack and Rochelle Sutin and their son, Larry, about their years in the resistance as Jews hiding in the wilderness and fighting the Germans as best they could and eventually the expansion of their lives in the western world.
You talked in the book about wanting to escape to Palestine. It wasn’t a Jewish state. There was no Israel at that time.
Rochelle Sutin: That’s right.
Roger: Talking about Palestine…. did you get to Palestine?
Rochelle Sutin: The truth is that we did want to go to Palestine because there was no Israel then; but, after I lost my first baby I was really depressed and the only way I could make myself feel better was, I got pregnant again. In 1947 my daughter was born in the camp in Germany. With a child there was no way to go because we’d have to go illegally, like Exodus, crossing the Alps. It was good only for strong young people. After my daughter was born this plan sort of fizzled out.
I had an uncle in the United States and I thought that for the future of my child it would be easier to go to the United States. We asked for papers and they sent us.
Roger: What year did you arrive here?
Rochelle Sutin: September 1949.
Roger: It’s obviously a nice family that you built and you’ve got some great stories to tell.
Rochelle Sutin: Yes, thank God! So far so good!
Roger: If people can learn the lesson of history, which is not likely, unfortunately. I’m trying to do my part here. If we can learn the lesson of history then maybe others will never have to go through what you went through. Did you ever believe that you’d get out alive?
Rochelle Sutin: No, no! It was a matter of just how we were going to die. We had a kind of pact, if we were going to be taken in a situation where we were caught alive, one would shoot the other because we always had our guns with us. It was just a matter of survival from day to day. I would never, never believe that we’d survive and come to Minneapolis and have children and grandchildren. It was an impossible dream!
Roger: Jack, your father went into the woods with you. What happened to your father in all this?
Jack Sutin: My father came with us to this country. He lived until age 88 and he died in 1974.
Roger: Wow! So the family made it out! Larry, how does this affect you, as the second generation?
Larry Sutin: I think it affects me in two ways. There’s part of it that is obviously a burden in the sense that I live with this knowledge of evil in the holocaust. I live in the knowledge that many members of my family were killed. It also fills me with a sense of strength because my parents survived, they fought and they told me their story. We have been able to preserve it. It makes me feel that life and continuing family… I have a child now, their grandchild, my sister has two children…. there’s something wonderful in continuing to go on! But, there’s a bitterness to it and also a legacy of strength and survival. It’s impossible to separate them. They’re intertwined.
Roger: Would you be willing to entertain some calls from the audience?
Larry Sutin: Sure.
Roger: I’m opening the phone lines for questions. Larry, how do people get the book?
Larry Sutin: It’s published by Gray Wolf Press which is a literary press, one of the best small presses in the country. The book is available in national bookstore chains; but, it can be specially ordered through local bookstores or write Gray Wolf Press in St. Paul. Most bookstores have Gray Wolf books and there is also a website where orders can be taken.
Roger: Well, it’s a tremendous story! This is the first time I’ve ever heard someone tell the story of resistance. I’ve probably missed about 99% of the good stuff; but, it’s hard to read the book real quick and do this. Have you ever gone back to the old haunts, Jack and Rochelle?
Rochelle Sutin: No, we never went back. I can’t face Poland again! To me Poland is one big graveyard! The terrible memories! We went there, to *STOLCHA*, after we were liberated. It was all burned down. I looked at the people and each face reminded me of their clapping hands when we taken to be killed! I can’t face them!
A friend of our went. He’s from my husband’s town, *MIR*. He went there with his son and grandson and made a video. He even went to the woods. The bunkers are still there! Some are a little broken down but they’re still there. He could still find the places where we were hiding. He gave us the video. We have the video from * MIR * from the medieval castle where the last Jews of *MIR* were sitting in the ghetto.
I have from Israel who went to *STOLCHA* and said there’s a mass grave. No wonder I heard the machine guns! It was maybe a half a mile from the sawmill where I was working. When we put up a stone before we left, we had to write the Russian _________ that you do not write that the Jews were killed here. It was written that 3,000 Soviet citizens lay here, buried by the Nazis.
Now, after Belarus is an independent country, they went from Israel to *STOLCHA*. We sent them money to put a beautiful stone in Hebrew saying all the Jewish population, 3,000 people are buried here. They asked the mayor to see that it’s kept up. Every summer somebody goes there to see everything is okay. I couldn’t do that.
Roger: Wow, 3,000! How many towns like this were there? There must have been hundreds of little towns like * MIR *?
Rochelle Sutin: Jews lived all over Poland in little shtetls, little towns! It was 2,000 here, 3,000 there! The crematoriums were not built yet! They were going from town to town killing the people and burying them in mass graves! We didn’t know there were such things as crematoriums until we were liberated! The crematoriums were built in 1943 and 1944. By then, the little shtetls were all all liquidated!
Roger: While you were out in the woods fighting and putting up a resistance, you didn’t know what was going on….
Rochelle Sutin: No! We didn’t know the crematoriums were built! When we came back to Poland and saw surviving Jews, we thought they were all in the resistance! They said, “no, we’re from Auschwitz.” That’s the first time we heard of concentration camps.
Roger: Do you think, Rochelle, that haven’t experienced this kind of thing can understand it?
Rochelle Sutin: No! Absolutely not! There’s plenty of nights when I can’t fall asleep. I have a film in my head and think all this over. There comes a point where I think, is this really true? But, it really happened! The older I get and the more I think about it, I don’t know how we did it and how we survived.
Roger: Yes! Well, hang on a minute. We’ve got to take a short break. Folks, I encourage you to call in to ask a question or make a comment if you have something to suggest or present this evening.
Roger: Our discussion this evening about the book, “Jack and Rochelle: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance,” by Larry Sutin, about his parents and their life as resistors living in the woods in Russian Poland during the holocaust. We’ve got some calls! Are you ready, folks?
Rochelle Sutin: Yes.
Roger: We’ve got Bill in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Hello, how are you?
Caller-Bill: Fine. My question is, I think all acts of genocide are reprehensible; but, the question is, Idi Amin killed 100,000 people in Uganda, Stalin killed 14 million in Russia, Mao killed 26, 000,000 in China, what is that’s made the story of the holocaust unique and why does people’s attention so much more?
Roger: All right, Bill, thank you.
Larry Sutin: I’ll take a crack at that. I think the caller is right. All acts of mass murder, mass crime are reprehensible. It’s obscene, in a certain sense, to compare suffering. What is unique factually, in terms of method, about the holocaust is, for example, the case of Mao in China or Stalin killing 14,000,000 in Russia wasn’t genocide. It was an attempt to exert internal political control and the rid the dictators of their opposition. In the case of the holocaust, the war against the Jews hindered the German war effort. Resources that could have been used to fight against Russia to the east and the allies to the west, were placed instead, to the task of killing as many Jews as possible. It was systematized killing and the absolute hatred that blunted political motivations on the part of the Nazi regime, other political motivations, that makes the holocaust factually unique as a horror. There was no attempt to gain land from the Jews. There was no attempt to rid the Jews as political adversaries, per se. They were simply the hated element in society the Nazi used to win the support of the people.
Roger: Yes. They became the catalyst for the anger that drove the war machine. Tom in Idaho, thank you for calling the program.
Caller-Tom: Hi! This question is on the same order. I’d like to ask two questions, then hang up and listen. The first is sort of on the same order. What did the Jews do that was so bad that Hitler and his henchmen wanted to annihilate the whole race? What did you do? What caused this? What is that? Then the other question; don’t you think this could happen again to the Jewish race? It’s almost a repeat over the centuries through the history of the Jewish people. Here you are a group in the United States, a group in parts of England, who knows where you all are still.
Roger: Scattered around the world!
Caller-Tom: Wouldn’t it be a good idea for you all to band together in some central place, maybe Israel? I’ll hang up now and listen off the air.
Larry Sutin: I’ll take a crack at this questions, if I may. First of all, it’s important to clarify, and I don’t think the caller meant any disrespect, the Jews aren’t a race. That was the Nazi version. There are Yemenite Jews, Morroccan Jews, Chinese Jews. Yes, Jews are a people and a religion; but, not a race.
It isn’t a question of what Jews did that made Hitler want to get them. There were no actions. Jews as an entity don’t do anything. There are individuals among Jews, as a with any other people. There is a history of hatred that stems from the time when the church split in the early days after the death of Jesus and there was some feeling that Jews were responsible. A good many historians and scholars question that version of history; but, there is a long-stemming hate from the accusation of Christ-killing , which I don’t think is a factual accusation.
Roger: Larry, I think it’s more spiritual than that. I think that God gave Abraham a covenant and that there’s been some real jealousy over that covenant since it was given. There are those out there who would work for what I call “The Forces of Darkness”, for the Devil. If we Christians have it right in the New Testament, you Jews are the key to our salvation. I believe that it’s Satan who is driving because of this promise made to not only to Abraham through the Covenant; but, to the Christian world, that to achieve salvation it’s the Jewish people who are going to ask Christ to return. So, I think there’s a lot of that that’s gone on.
Larry Sutin: Well, I think there is a great deal of tension. I think that you’re right, whether you call it Satan or whether you call it the evil within human beings. People look for a scapegoat and I think a good many satanic or evil inclinations have utilized the Jewish people as a scapegoat as a way of gaining power. I mean, Hitler clearly came to power by utilizing anti-semitic hatred amongst the German people as a means of catalyzing the anger.
Roger: Yes. You know, I need to tell you that we’ve run out of time. I just want to thank all of you. Rochelle, Jack and Larry, thank you so very much! As a bad as it was, it looks like it turned out storybook for you folks. You’ve got a wonderful family and I hope your life in America has been wonderful! And Larry, they raised a heck of a son! God Bless you all very much, I wish you all the best!
The Sutins: Thank you! Same to you!
Roger: All right, ladies and gentlemen! That’s it for the evening. Thank you for joining us tonight! We can’t ever let this kind of thing happen — Never Again! And, you can’t forget it, and you can’t throw if off and say it didn’t happen! It did! Believe it!
God bless you all and God bless America! Good night, everyone!
(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.
Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology. Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)