Meir’s Story

With his escape into the forest in the fall of 1942, Meir met and joined three other young Jews. Together, they dug out a small bunker in the ground, called a zemlyanka , which became their hideout. Finding a small ax allowed them to make their new home as functional and as comfortable as possible. They made wooden benches to sit on and a ceiling supported by wooden beams. They also padded the walls, and covered the outside with dried leaves for camouflage so they would not be found during Nazi raids.

But life in the forest was not easy. Meir and his friends ultimately hoped to join the partisans, but when they finally made contact with the leader of one partisan group the commander refused to accept them because they were too young.

Meir and his friends were now desperate for help. They were infested with lice , and as the weather turned colder and the first snow fell, food became sparse. Occasionally, the young people found non- Jews in the forest who were willing to offer some help. Others, however, threatened to turn them in to the authorities.

“We would steal potatoes from the fields…”
—Meir Kransnostawski

After six months of living in the forest, Meir was desperate for help and decided to put his trust in one Polish family that lived near the forest. The Shpalikovskis needed help on their farm, and they could see that Meir was strong enough, and willing to work. Though the family knew Meir was Jewish, they generously cared for him. They burned Meir’s old, lice -infested rags and gave him new clothes. They gave him a place to sleep on the top floor of the barn, and invited him to eat his meals with the family. In exchange, Meir worked in the fields with Josef, the head of the household, planting potatoes and sowing wheat.

Since the Shpalikovski home was centrally located, many people came to visit, to sit and have a cup of tea, including the local authorities. On these occasions, Meir had to act like a non-Jew, speaking the local dialect, crossing himself, and saying the Christian prayers before meals. When German soldiers passed by the area, local Poles would come and warn the Shpalikovskis, and Meir and the entire family would go into hiding in the forest, fearing for their lives.

Altogether, Meir spent 15 months living with the Shpalikovski family.

In the spring of 1944 the Soviet army liberated the city of Korets. When he heard this news, Josef helped Meir find his way back to his own home. When they arrived, they found the home still standing, but occupied by strangers.

With great conviction, Meir began a thorough search for the possessions that he and his father had buried in the ground during the war. The people who were now living in his home laughed, telling Meir that any hidden treasures would surely have been found by others by now. But Meir and Josef began digging in the ground, and after some time they hit the top of a barrel. Miraculously, they pulled out the barrel and found everything that had been buried there. In gratitude, Meir immediately gave more than half of what was in the barrel to his friend and protector, Josef Shpalikovski.

After parting with Josef and sending regards to the rest of the Shpalikovski family, Meir began the difficult journey of establishing his new life on his own. For a while, he rented an apartment with some other Jews and, naturally, found a job working in a bakery. The bakery had once been owned by his relatives, but was now taken over by the Soviet government.

One day, though, Meir went to get his haircut at a barbershop in town, and the barber, a Jewish man from Pinsk, told him that it would be better for Meir to work for him. The man explained to Meir that being a barber would be more profitable. Meir agreed, and within two months learned how to cut hair. He passed the government tests and received an official certificate as a barber.

During this time, Meir also managed to move back to his childhood home, after much effort. Several other survivors who had lost their families and homes came to live with him, as well.

Meir was finally eating well, and had clothes and shelter. Still, there were dangers for young, fit men like Meir. The Soviets, now governing Korets, started gathering young men to work in the mines. Fearing such a fate, Meir found his way back to Josef and his family, and stayed there until 1945.