(No. 7/2006- June 2006)
Editor: Fran Bock
and Found in
by Myrna Siegel
Most of my friends and family find it difficult to understand my passion and pursuit of family history. But they do occasionally admit that they too would like to know more about their ancestral family. When I told them that we would be making a return visit to our ancestral towns in Lithuania and Belarus, their reaction was almost unanimous, “You were there ten years ago, why do you want to return; what more can you learn?” They obviously do not share the feeling of intrigue and mystique that my ancestral shtetl Molchad holds for me.
For a moment let us turn the clock back ten years. In the summer of 1995, after visiting a friend who was near death, my husband Shael told me that after Yom Kippur he wanted to go to his grandfather’s birth town in Wizna, Poland. In previous years we had often spoken of taking a trip to our ancestral towns in Lithuania, Poland and Belarus, and realized that waiting for the perfect time was not an option. We hurriedly made our plans and left six weeks later. A message on Jewishgen supplied us with logistical help, including guides, who we fortunately were able to contact and confirm quickly. Yes, I had been involved with genealogy research for several years and had some information about our ancestral towns but when we got there I realized my knowledge was limited.
AND SHAEL SIEGEL IN
MYRNA’S MOTHER DORA PLOFSKY’S SCHOOL PIN PRE-WORLD WAR I—SLONIM
When World War I broke out her father, Joseph Plofsky took her back to Molchad. She vividly remembered bridges in Slonim that were bombed and burning. In Molchad she would frequently go across the street to the large church to help care for the wounded soldiers. This is where my mother learned to speak several different languages.
CHURCH IN MOLCHAD
It was from my paternal great
uncles Nate and Sam Brodsky that I heard so many
stories about the family flour mill. They told me that my great great grandfather Meir Arieh Boretcky built three
flour mills for his three sons, Yakov Yoseph, Itsele and Moshe Aaron.
In my travels to Molchad and from speaking
to survivors, I have only been able to establish that there were two flour
mills thus making the following story more plausible. Family stories tell
that after Meir Arieh
died my great grandfather Yakov Yoseph
had a disagreement with his brother Moshe Aaron over the inheritance of the
flour mill. My great grandfather left Molchad
and accepted a position in the Caucuses (Tiblisi)
for one-half year, teaching the children of a wealthy land owner Hebrew and
Talmud. In 1907 he, his second wife Tamara and three of their eight children
FLOUR MILL’S CORNER STONE AS SEEN IN 1995
I had someone contact the mayor
at that time saying that if the building was ever demolished I would be
interested in getting the cornerstone. A year later I received a letter
saying that the mill was being turned into a bathhouse and the stone was
removed and in the mayor’s safe keeping for me to come and reclaim. I
was told by a
I dreamed that if and when I made a return trip it would be with a survivor from Molchad who would be able to point out the homes and places of Jewish interest. I so much wanted to walk the streets in hopes of recapturing what had once been there. Imagination can only take you so far and I needed someone to share their own personal first handed experiences of this once living Jewish community (80% of the population of Molchad before 1941 was Jewish). The few remaining survivors I have met with carry bitter memories of the Nazis marching into their beloved shtetl and the mass killings. They also have horrendous animosity against their non-Jewish neighbors who collaborated with the Nazis. When these survivors saw the video we took after our first trip, they told me that the only satisfaction they had is that the town, and its now inhabitants, have not moved into the 21st century and live the life of a typical Pale peasant. Ultimately I realized I would have to make my return trip unaccompanied by a survivor.
STREET SCENE MOLCHAD
It is now October 2004 and in
the ensuing nine years I have spoken to several survivors and have gathered
much more information. Before going to
All our travel arrangements for
Arriving in Molchad with a map from the Yizkor book and some additional information from a Molchad survivor, Martin Small, we easily found the flour mill of my great great grandfather. When we got out of the car we immediately saw that the corner stone had been removed from the flour mill foundation. My first reaction was that the ex-mayor had possession of it and I wanted to find it. This was the one known object remaining that connected a physical presence of my family to this shtetl.
FLOUR MILL BUILT BY MYRNA’S GREAT GREAT GRANDFATHER 1866
(Picture taken 1995-----look closely and you will see the corner stone)
In the small town square where shops owned by Jews once stood before the war, we saw several women sitting on a bench. Galina went to talk to them and one woman said she would take us to find a lady who lived in Molchad before the war.
GALINA SCHWARZ TALKING WITH WOMEN
Our new found friend, Ludmila Golonsko, escorted us
throughout the town, the cemetery, the mass grave, and the synagogue,
spending over two hours with us. She was born 1924 in the
MOLCHAD JEWISH CEMETERY
I took some stones from the Jewish cemetery and we now turned to walk down a sandy road toward the mass grave in the forest. This must have been the path the Jews took as they marched to their deaths. As we walked we could see the spires of the church over our shoulder and realized this was probably the last view of Molchad the poor souls had prior to their execution.
On the main road across from
the gentile cemetery was one lone house and a man on a bicycle stepped out.
He joined us as we walked together for a short distance into the woods,
stopping in front of two memorial stones that stand in front of the mass
grave, containing 3,600 bodies. Using funds donated by the Molchad survivor group, a second stone was put up
in 1993 by Rachmiel Bar, a Molchad
survivor who now lives in
MASS GRAVE IN MOLCHAD WOODS CONTAINING 3,600 BODIES
Lev described (much too vividly for my comfort) how the Nazis stood on a bluff a short distance away and kept shooting at the people as they approached the open pit. Our “local resident guide” said she was told that the women walked quietly and told the children that this was God’s will. When the Nazis came to Molchad they killed the young men first because they were afraid they would rebel and fight back. Then they killed the women, children and elderly men. With tears in my eyes I placed two stones I had taken from the Jewish cemetery on the memorial stones at the mass grave, and Shael recited Kaddish.
We walked back to the town going from one house to another hoping to find someone who possibly remembered the Jews who had lived there. Most everyone we met said they came there after the war, possibly not wanting to admit that they remembered anyone or anything. The former synagogue is now a collective farm office. The door was open and we walked in and up the stairs. It appeared that the rooms on the upper floor were offices and we did see a few people working. We did not see any thing that indicated that this building had been a synagogue. There was a door on the first floor but it was locked. When I returned home Martin Small told me that the synagogue was actually below ground. Another survivor described the beautiful biblical paintings on the ceiling of the synagogue. Our “resident guide” told us that the top part of the building was blown off during the war and rebuilt. When she moved to Molchad after the war she remembers children playing near this building with chips that were painted different colors. There had been 3 synagogues in this area and only one building remains today.
FORMER MOLCHAD SYNAGOGUE REMADE
We were invited into our new found friend Ludmila’s house for tea and something to eat. She insisted we come in but we convinced her that we did not have enough time. Her front porch was filled with apples and she gleefully filled a large bag saying that I should take these apples from my ancestral town. We thanked her, said our good-byes and continued on to the town hall hoping to find the mayor. The offices were empty except for one office where a lady was sitting at her desk. She told us that the mayor and the rest of the staff were at their farms gathering crops since it was harvesting time. We explained to the secretary that we were looking for the corner stone from the mill and she immediately called the homes of the former mayor and his secretary. There was no answer at either home.
Galina gave the current mayor’s secretary her cell
phone number and asked her to call us in
Thanks to a Slonim survivor, Zvi Shefat, who told me which buildings of Jewish interest were still standing, our visit there was far more meaningful than our previous visit in 1995. Galina was persistent and kept calling the secretary in Molchad. About 3:00 P.M Galina’s phone rang and beaming she exclaimed that we had to leave Slonim and return to Molchad -------- the stone had been found
MARKET PLACE ON SITE OF FORMER JEWISH CEMETERY ALONGSIDE 17TH CENTURY GREAT SYNAGOGUE
The current mayor’s secretary was waiting for us and excitedly took us to the home of the former mayor who was unfortunately ill and in the hospital. His wife came out and led us on a path behind her house. There alongside the barn she pointed to a huge boulder covered with underbrush.
Shael immediately said that this was not the corner stone, that we had seen in 1995 which was just a little larger then a few bricks. Also there was no date or insurance symbol to be seen. But the mayor’s wife insisted it was in fact the corner stone and said that the markings were on the under side of the boulder. We estimated that it was several feet in diameter and weighed about 700 pounds. How were we to turn this huge thing over? The secretary said her husband would be able to do that and ran home to get him. A short while later they came carrying two large steel bars. He handed one to our driver Christian and motioned for Shael to push.
After much strenuous effort the three managed to flip the boulder over. No markings could be seen. The former mayor’s wife ran back to the house and returned with a bucket of water and a stiff brush. In just a minute or two, after pouring water and scraping the mud off the boulder the date of 1866 and the insurance symbol were clearly visible. Shael acknowledged he was wrong and after Galina translated his words to the others everyone had a hearty laugh, claiming that this was the first time they ever heard a man admit he was wrong.
DIRT OFF THE
I suggested they place the
boulder in front of the town hall with a memorial plaque saying it was from
the flour mill built by Meir Arieh
Boretcky in 1866. It should also acknowledge that
the Jews once comprised 80% of the population of Molchad.
We returned to
Peering out the plane window with a glass of wine in my hand, I was hoping to get a last glimpse of Molchad. The rolling hills and heavily wooded forests made singling out Molchad impossible. The villages appeared as small dots-----all so similar. I could not help but think of how different my parents’ exodus from Molchad was some 90 years earlier. I also thought of the poor Jews who remained in this area and of their fate during the Shoah. The unfortunate souls who were hideously murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators and thrown into mass graves July, 1942. And of those who fortunately escaped death but endured such extreme hardships in order to survive.
Although I did not return home with the corner stone, I learned that even with the passage of time there are discoveries that sometimes take repeat visits to unlock. And if I am ever given the opportunity to return to Molchad with a survivor or a member of my family, it would not take me long to pack!
I admit I did not come home
empty handed. In addition to the stones I placed at the mass grave site
there, I brought additional stones from the Jewish cemetery back home.
Together with my brother Sidney and sister Madeline we buried a few stones at
the graves of my grandparents and parents in
MYRNA WITH BROTHER
SID BRODSKY AND SISTER MADELINE SHIFFMAN PLACING STONES FROM MOLCHAD AT THE
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