Henach (Henikel, later Harold) Minuskin is the son of Shlamke (Sam) (b. March 12, 1905) and Shanke (Sonia) nee Orlinsky Minuskin (b. September 17, 1914). Harold was born on July 22, 1938, and his younger brother Kalmanke (later Carl) was born on August 17, 1940. The entire family was born in Zhetel (named Zdzienciol when it was part of Poland), a small town near Nowogrodek where Sam owned a bus company and Sonia was trained as a hairdresser and manicurist. Shortly after the start of World War II, Sam built a secret hiding place under their backyard outhouse. His foresight later saved their lives.
For the first year and a half of the war, the Soviet Union occupied Zhetel, (named Dyatlavo under Russian rule), but on June 30, 1941, Nazis gained control of the town and immediately began persecuting the Jewish population. On July 23, 1941, the Nazis executed 120 prominent Jews in Zhetel, including Sonia's brother. On February 22, 1942, the Germans ordered all the Jews in Zhetel into a ghetto surrounded by wire. Two months later they rounded up and killed some 1000 Jewish residents. After this first slaughter, on April 30, a few dozen people escaped from the ghetto into the nearby woods and began to organize into partisan groups.
On August 6, 1942, the Germans began the final liquidation of Zhetel. Sam was rounded up in a mass sweep of the town and locked together with hundreds of other Jews in the town's synagogue. In the middle of all the confusion, he and a few others climbed up and hid in the enclosed rafters for about two days and nights. Once it became quiet, they escaped into the Belorussian woods and joined up with the Jewish Partisans.
Meanwhile Sonia, her two young boys and other family members hid in the small dugout space that Sam had built underneath their outhouse. After three days and nights in the suffocating stench and darkness, Sonia fled together with her sons, then ages four and two, attempting to find refuge in the nearby forest. One aunt remained behind with Sonia's mother, whose poor eyesight left her unable to keep walking. At daylight, both were captured by the Germans and shot.
Sonia walked for days during which time she sought refuge and food from farmers and peasants she had known for many years. She also received help from two nuns who administered aid to her bleeding feet and gave the children some milk. Sonia and her children slept in ditches on some nights. She became lost since the forest was further away than she originally thought. Sam eventually found them hiding in a root cellar used by a farmer to store potatoes. He then led them to the partisan camp.
While Sam went on missions with the partisans, Sonia and their sons lived in camouflaged underground shelters in the forest called zemlyankas. However, for security reasons they could not remain in any one shelter for too long and had to keep moving.
At first the Jewish Partisans operated on their own, carrying out revenge killings of known collaborators and blowing up railways and bridges and setting up ambushes of German patrols. Then in spring 1943, under orders from Moscow, Russian officers and equipment were parachuted into the forests to organize and train the partisans in guerrilla tactics for their battles against the Germans. Most partisans from Zhetel belonged to the Orlanski Battalion, but Sam became part of the Lenin Atraid (Brigade). At first they had only limited weapons, but they gradually acquired more from farmers and peasants and from ambushes of German convoys and collaborators.
The people in the partisan camps lived off of food that grew wild in the forest or from what they obtained from local peasants. They also seized supplies from ambushes of German patrols. Sonia made some of the family clothing from silk parachutes that the Russian officers discarded when they parachuted into the woods. She sewed warm coats for herself and the boys from a heavy German great coat. Though only a young child, Harold also assisted his parents. At the age of seven, he learned to load the round machine gun magazines for his father and how to shoot a rifle. He also helped his mother saw logs to help build a zemlyanka shelter by pulling one end of the lumberman's saw, while she pulled the other.
After living in the forest for over two years, the Minuskin family and their fellow partisans were liberated on September 7, 1944 by the Soviet Army. After a brief attempt to return to their home in Zhetel, about May 1945 the Minuskin family arrived at Zeilsheim DP camp near Frankfurt am Main, Germany, by way of Poland. While in the DP camp, Sonia's sister, who lived in NY, found out that the Minuskin family was alive and made all immigration arrangements to sponsor them to the United States. On September 6, 1946, the Minuskins immigrated to the United States on the ship called the Marine Marlin. They arrived in New York harbor after a ten day trip from the port of Bremen, Germany. Harold was 8 years old.
Harold went on to graduate from City College of New York with a degree in electrical engineering, and in 1969 he received a Masters of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Long Beach. Since 1989, he has worked as a senior design engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, part of the California Institute of Technology, under contract to NASA. In 2009, after spending two years translating his mother's WWII memoirs from Yiddish to English, Harold self-published his book, My Children, My Heroes: Memoirs of a Holocaust Mother. Harold included his own childhood memories and descriptions of partisan battles.