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Moshe and Zipporah Sonenson pose with their children, Yitzhak and Yaffa, on a bridge in the Tetlance Forest.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 38994

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    Moshe and Zipporah Sonenson pose with their children, Yitzhak and Yaffa, on a bridge in the Tetlance Forest.
    Moshe and Zipporah Sonenson pose with their children, Yitzhak and Yaffa, on a bridge in the Tetlance Forest.


    Moshe and Zipporah Sonenson pose with their children, Yitzhak and Yaffa, on a bridge in the Tetlance Forest.
    Alte Katz
    Tetlance, [Nowogrodek; Vilnius] Poland
    Variant Locale
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of The Shtetl Foundation

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    The Shtetl Foundation (Yad Vashem Photo and Film Archives)
    Copyright: Agency Agreement
    Provenance: Sonenson Family
    Source Record ID: RN1-85
    NOT FOR RELEASE without the permission of the The Shtetl Foundation

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Yaffa Eliach (born Yaffa Sonenson) is the daughter of Moshe and Zipporah (Katz) Sonenson of Eisiskes, Poland. She was born May 31, 1936. Her older brother, Yitzhak Uri was four years older. Yaffa's maternal grandparents, Yitzhak Uri and Alte (Rahel-Yehudit) Katz, were both professional photographers. Alte also owned a bakery, was a pharmacist and served as director of the school education committee. On June 23, 1941, two days after Germany launched a surprise invasion of the Soviet Union, it occupied Eisiskes. Within days, German soldiers began harassing and humiliating Jewish residents. One ordered Yaffa's father, who was a member of the volunteer fire department, to hose down his brother with the fire hose or they would shoot him. Later they set attack dogs on members of the Jewish council, including Moshe. About the same time, Yaffa's mother gave birth to another boy. Her parents held the brit milah in secret. The Germans then officially declared that they were granting permission for Jews to hold High Holiday services and encouraged the community to attend. Moshe became suspicious and wanted the family to flee, but his mother-in-law, Alte, refused. Instead, he sent his two older children to live with Zozia Aliszkewicz, their Polish housekeeper. On Rosh Hashanah eve, Lithuanian collaborators began rounding up Jews. Four days later they began systematically killing all the Jews in Eisiskes. Alte Katz was among the murdered. After the shooting stopped a peasant boy stopped at Zozia's house to fetch the children and bring them to their father who had fled the killing. As soon as they met their father they continued walking to a safer hiding place passing the bodies of murdered friends lying in the snow. They came to Vassiliosk and stayed with a former business acquaintance, but that night Moshe was arrested. He escaped from jail badly beaten and fled again with his children. After two days of walking they came to Radun where they reunited with Yaffa's mother and baby brother. The Germans established a ghetto in Radun, and the Sonensons lived there for about half a year. Yaffa attended a clandestine Hebrew school, and her father and brother went out to work. On May 10, 1942 Moshe heard that the Germans planned to liquidate the ghetto and decided the family should flee again. He brought the family to a carriage house used to store fodder for horses. There were already other Jews hiding there when they arrived who feared that the baby would give them away as well. Moshe negotiated to allow his family to remain there; the baby was smothered and died. When they came out of the hiding place, they discovered the ghetto strewn with cadavers. Only sixty Jews remained in the ghetto who had been assigned the job of cleaning up. Moshe's family temporarily joined the ghetto and then fled to the forests on May 28. Moshe next brought his family to the home of Kazimirz Korcucz, a Polish Catholic aristocrat who Alte and Uri Sonenson had assisted during World War I. He was reluctant to help but eventually agreed for a sum of money and found them a spot in a cave under a pigsty. After rumors spread in the village that Kazimirz was hiding Jews, he told them they had to leave. They stayed briefly with another Polish friend who also became fearful and asked them to leave. By this time Zipporah again was pregnant, and since they had nowhere else to go, the family returned to Korcucz in desperation. After the baby's birth, Moshe left him in a basket and outside the church with a note saying that the baby born out of wedlock to a member of a prominent Polish family and requesting that the baby be baptized and adopted. Finally on July 13, 1944 Soviet troops liberated the Sonensons, and they returned to Eisiskes. From an original prewar Jewish population of 35,000, the Sonensons were among only 29 who had survived. That fall, Moshe went to the priest managed to retrieve his youngest son. Upon his return, he held party on October 20 to celebrate the boy's return who they named Chaim. The celebration was short lived however. Soon after the party ended, the family heard an uproar and hid in a closet. A band of young members of the Polish Home Army barged into the home and found the hiding place. Though they did not notice Yaffa, her father and older brother, they shot and killed Zipporah and the baby at close range. The police arrested the assailants but freed them almost immediately. After the funeral Moshe brought his children to neighboring town of Aran. Two months later, disaster struck again. In December 1944, after being denounced by other Jewish survivors, the NKVD arrested Moshe and the courts sentenced him to forced labor for life in Kazakhstan. Yaffa and Yitzhak were left without any parents and went to staff with a group of Jewish former partisans. After a while Yaffa found Shlomo, Moshe's brother. He had a British passport since he had lived in Palestine before the war. Claiming Yaffa as his daughter, he left the Soviet Union and made his way eventually to Palestine arriving in April 1946. She later attended a religious Zionist Mizrahi high school under the direction of a young principal, David Eliach. They fell in love and were married in 1953. Moshe finally was freed and permitted to leave the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s. He came to Israel and became a farmer.

    [Source: Stein, Andre, Hidden Children: Forgotten Survivors of the Holocaust. Toronto, Ont., 1994.]
    Record last modified:
    2001-09-24 00:00:00
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