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Tanchum Bojarski's Story 

by Betty Laboska

     This is the story of my father, Tanchum Bojarski, the little boy in the photo. My father was the youngest of four children and a little spoiled I have been told. His parents owned the grocery store and the jewelry store in their town of Lida. They were a relatively well to do family. When the Germans entered into their town and began the “separation” the townspeople were forced to form two lines. The ones who would live were sent to one line and the ones who they were going to kill were sent to the other line. My father’s oldest sister Rivke and her 2 year old son, Melvin, were sent to the line that was destined for death. Rivke fell to her knees and entreated the German soldier to please let her live. She told him that her husband, pointing to her brother, was on the other line.


     Miraculously my Aunt Rivke and my cousin Melvin were allowed to live. My grandparents, Bashe and Falke Bojarski and their youngest daughter who I would never meet, were rifle butted and forced to join the rest of the unfortunate ones in a march to a mass grave that had been dug on the outskirts of town. It was there that they were shot and thrown into the grave. His older brother was taken out of town prior to the separation and never returned. My father, Aunt Rivke and Melvin were brought to the ghetto where my father performed various jobs for the Germans.

     Subsequently, they ran away from the Ghetto and joined the Bielski partisans. My father had to carry the baby on his shoulders and keep his hand over his mouth lest he give them away to the German soldiers who were near the swamp through which they traveled. They finally arrived at the encampment in the woods and were among the 1250 fortunate ones that were saved by the Bielski Brothers. I believe that my father is the man depicted in the movie Defiance, who fell asleep at the watch.


     After they were liberated, my father went back to his house in Lida where he had hidden a box of jewels and diamonds under the foundation. They were not to be found. He was then drafted into the Russian Army. He had been given a pocket watch by his father Falke right before the war broke out and was told to keep it close to his heart. While in the army, my father was shot by a sniper and the bullet ricocheted off of the watch, which was in his upper vest pocket, and went into his arm instead. If it hadn’t been for the watch, he too would have died. He spent two years in a hospital in Italy with nerve damage to his arm. He then traveled to America where he met my mother and the rest is, as they say, history.


     The nurses where my father was living called me on June 29, 2006 to tell me that my father was going to die. I went to him and sang Yiddish songs for hours while he lay dying in his bed. After midnight I went home to get some rest and get ready for the next day. I found his pocket watch, which he had given to me, and wound it up to see if it still worked. I was getting it ready for the rabbi to tell the story about the watch saving his life at the service. The watch did work.

I got a phone call from the nurse the following morning a little after 5. She told me that my father died at 5 AM. When I got the watch ready to give to the Rabbi for the service, I found that the watch had stopped ticking at 5:02. The watch still reads 5:02 till this day.

     My father passed away in on June 30, 2006 at the age of 84. Unfortunately, he lived a tortured life having lost both of his parents and his brother and sister. He had recurring nightmares and suffered from extreme depression. But he survived and fathered two daughters myself and my sister Sherry. Although he may not have been the father that we needed as little girls, I have come to love him for the man that he was…. A HERO.

Betty Laboska

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