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[English Page 72]

My Visit to Melnitza August 1993

Shmuel Reiter – Kibbutz Afek

The wish to make this visit was born after we heard from Joshua Lior about his visit to Melnitza. We decided to organized a group of six people and made this trip. In fact, only two people remained from the original grou0: Bilha and myself, Joshua Lior, who travelled for 5 weeks in Russia and the Ukraine and supplied us with the information. We telephoned a day before our departure and arranged to meet at the Kiev terminal. (Since our flight was late, we met with Tova (Tania) who had been waiting for a very long time together with her husband and son. We went to their home. The reception was outstanding.

Kiev, a city of 4.5 million people, covers a tremendous area of 4050 square kilometers. Most of the city was rebuilt after the war. The city is beautiful, green, with lots of trees and grass and grand architecture.

The day after our arrival we went for a trip in Tova's son's car (we rented the car for the complete duration of our stay there). Naturally, our first visit was to Babi Yar. We were told that the place was repaired and opened to visitors only a few years ago due to pressure of public opinion from western countries. The whole area is now covered with threes, grass and flowers. A beautiful memorial was erected there with the inscription of the historical event in three languages: Ukrainian, Hebrew and Yiddish. The inscription says:

(IN MEMORY OF THE 100,000 CITIZENS OF KIEV AND WAR PRISONERS SHOT BETWEEN 1941–1943 BY THE GERMAN FASCIST OCCUPIERS)

Later on, when visiting the town, we went to the markets to see how things were. It seems that fresh food cannot be obtained. The meat on the counters is not refrigerated. In the shops there are very few groceries. In the area where Tova lives there are only three shops: One for bread and two for other groceries. There is a long queue at every shop. They all stand quietly awaiting their turn. There is also a fuel shortage and the gas stations are closed.

The transportation is either with the trams – free of charge – or by metro. For the cost of a dime one can travel all day long.

The geographic nearness of Chernobil scares the people very much. Also, cars are not parked in the streets during the night since they will be stolen and taken apart. People leave their cars in special parking lots for payment.

Tova and Yankel who had been living in Kiev for many years reside in a small apartment. One small room, a kitchen and a tiny bathroom that does not always have running waters, especially hot water. The neighborhood consists of houses that were built 15 years ago. There are 4 blocks, populated by 2,000 people. The whole place is very shabby and the lighting is poor.

The people are all very polite. Whenever I entered the tram or the metro I was always given a seat. It seems everyone has been brought up to respect the elderly.

The next day, Friday, we went with Tova who is 80 years old, from Kiev to Melnitza. The distance is about 560 kilometers. The car we drove was very old. We had to push it several times to start the engine. The landscape is very beautiful – lots of tall trees and large fields. Next to the houses there are lovely gardens with fruit trees. The traffic is very light due to the lack of gas and the closed gas stations. Children stand by the roadside selling goods from their villages, mostly apples and potatoes of poor quality. The fields are cultivated by primitive methods. All along the way we saw wheat piles with the grain that had not yet been separated. After several hours of driving we passed Rovna that was rebuilt. It can be recognized by the height of the buildings and the different construction. On the way from Rovna to Lutzk we saw signs showing the way to familiar places such as Ulika, Zdolbonov, Rozhishch, Remnitz, etc. We arrived at Lutzk in the late afternoon and went to visit Leah. She lives with her 32 year old daughter who is separated from her husband and her cute 5 year old grandson.

The table was set for Shabbat eve, with gefilte fish and meat. Our meeting was very exciting and emotional. Leah, one of the Rog sisters, is a special

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On the way to Melnitza, August 1993

 

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Shmuel Reiter in Melnitza, August 1993

 

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Left to right: Tova –Tojbe Rog, the new houseowner of the Rog's house. August 1993

 

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The ruins from the Flour Mill and the Power Station in Melnitza. August 1993

 

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woman and we really enjoyed our conversation.

On Saturday we went out to see the town. I had visited Lutzk before and the factories and shops that were all run by Jews. My disappointment was great. The town looks completely different. There are only a few Jewish wooden houses left in one part of the town.

 

The Memorial Story

Leah brought us to the town's memorial wher the Jews of Lutzk were killed. The place used to be the town's garbage dump. When Leah and several other Jews pleaded with the town's authorities, the memorial was erected. Later on the place became a garbage dump once more. It took many more complaints and pleading before the place was finally cleaned up. A delegation from Israel arrived with the financial means to pave the place and put up fences. Flowers were planted on both sides of the memorial. When we arrived there it was the season for the flowering of chrysanthemums. The grass was tall and very green and above all that beauty were three large boards with the inscription in Ukrainian, Hebrew and Yiddis: “In this place are buried 26,658 Jews murdered by the Germans and their Ukrainian assistants from Lutzk and area in August 1942. God will revenge their blood!”

We went on to see the town and then returned to Leah's house. It is a one room furnished apartment with a kitchen and bathroom. It is customary there to take your shoes off upon entering the apartment. Leah is the fourth sister of the Rog family. She is a retired dentist and is relatively well off. Apart from her wages and her pension, she has a “Datcha” outside the town. There she owns a few acres where she grows potatoes (without which a meal is not a meal there), some vegetables and a few fruit trees.

The next day, Sunday morning, we went from Lutzk to Melnitza. Passing villages along the way we observed new houses surrounded by cultivated fruit trees, vegetable gardens and many flowers. We stopped at a house with a flower garden to buy flowers that we had forgotten to get in Lutzk. They gave us a bouquet of flowers free of charge.

During the long drive Leah told us about a Polish school headmaster, Henrik Vozok, who gave Germans names of Communists and Jewish Komsomols. Amongst others, he revealed to the Germans the names of Daniel Licht, his uncle and the girls Hava Skop and Knobl. The Ukrainians rounded them up, dug a hole in the ground and buried them alive. Daniel's head stuck up and a Ukrainian took his head off with a hatchet. After covering the hole with earth, the Ukrainians took the Rog sisters' father with another 40 people to Bikova, a village near Kovel, where they were murdered. In 1974 four Ukrainians were brought to trial for this murder. Leah (Lulu) was called as a witness. They were sentenced to death. This took place in Holobi where the area's main offices are located as well as the courthouse. Leah has written to Joshua about the trial. It will be published in the Melnitza book.

Two days before all the Jews were killed, Leah and her sister Bella, who now lives in Russia escaped and joined the partisans. After the area was freed by the Russians who entered Melnitza, she returned to the sight of the murders and she and some other girls took shovels and started digging. They found complete families, all naked with their heads down. Apparently she has some photographs of this horror.

The killings took place on September 3, 1943. At 5 a.m. all the Jews of the area were gathered at the synagogue and were led like sheep to be slaughtered. The killings were executed by 97 Ukrainians (so–called policemen) and 5 Nazis. They were stripped naked and complete families were shot and thrown into the hole. Sarah Knobl tried to escape but was shot and killed.

We arrived at the Holobi–Melnitza Junctions. We saw people waiting for a lift. Busses do not run due to the fuel shortage. Things are not as they used to be when horses drew wagons to the train station. The road that goes all the way to Melnitza is still in bad condition. It is surrounded by very thick trees. The “Berg” – the sandy mountain in from of town no long exists.

After parking the car, we walked another 200 meters and arrived at the Memorial site. We were surprised to find a beautiful monument with the Ukrainian inscription: “In this place the fascists murdered 1,200 ‘Soviet citizens’ in 1942”. The memorial is surrounded by a few meters of pavement

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and by several trees.

We held a ceremony, read “Yizkor” and I, not a religious Jewss, said “Kaddish” and “El Malei Rachamim”. This was a bad shock to all of us. The ceremony was held mostly for the Rog sisters. Tova, the elder, said with tears running down her cheeks, “I have never cried before. This is the first time I have with compassion and pain”. Leah's devotion should be mentioned here. She keeps work tools at home and travels twice a year from Lutzk to Melnitza to clean the weeds around the memorial. We found a dry bouquet of flowers that was put there in May on the anniversary of the end of the war.

I would like to remark on something and hope it will not be taken as criticism. In Israel, when a member of the family dies, people visit the grave every year to honor the memory of the deceased. It is true that the location in ex–Poland is far for all of us, but I believe that for a large group of people the expenses would have been lower. Nevertheless, I was satisfied to find my self in the actual spot where my family and all the innocent Jews of Melnitza were murdered. My life's greatest ambition was to reach Poland after its release.

We went into the town. The first houses near the Tregovitza have been demolished and were never rebuilt. We reached the Rog's house that they sold after the war. There we found an old gentile woman and talked with her. After taking pictures of the house we went with Bilha to Shkolni Street where the Polish school used to be. The Posterunek (police) that was on one side was completely burnt down while on the other side Leved's house was rebuilt. As for the school, the only remains are the floor and ruined foundations. Two houses that were built behind the old school serve as a school now.

As we went on we met an old gentile. We talked and he suggested that we go to the gentile named Zacher who “Knows all”. We met Zacher, who is 85 years old, and it turned out he speaks Yiddish. I asked him if he knew where our house stood. “Yes, I know”, he replied in Yiddish. He led me through new houses to where our house used to be. Now there is a new house in its place, nicely furnished, with a garden and trees. I was looking for the “Pompa” (for drawing water) and he remembered his father told him about it. We were served a fruit dessert and I left the others with Zacher and continued the walk on my own. I went as far as Sionza, the only building that remained from the old streets. All the houses and the lively shops are extinct and in their places are new streets with new houses. I have met with old gentiles who remembered the old street names and some of the old houses that were demolished. Such houses are those of Moshe Leib Neiman, father of the late Koni Neiman, of Mottel Winchel, Lerner, Zoref, etc. The whole area of the synagogues and public baths has disappeared.

By that time, the others caught up with me and we drove to a village we remembered – Fedriz. There we visited an old gentile woman who, during the war, saved Hanna, Hossi Eizenberg's daughter. Hanna, who now lives in Israel, sent her a gift of $100. This sum is worth a great deal over there. The village is 50 kilometers away from Melnitza and we lost precious time going there.

On the left side of Sionzna the town's Rabbi and my aunt Rivka Hofen used to live. There as well, new houses were built. We then reached the town windmill which beside flour, provided the town with electricity. After photographing the ruined building we went to the street leading to the Berg (mountain). Each one of us had pleasant memories of this place. Also, this is where the Ekonomia river flows, where we used to go bathing in the summer. We stopped near the Catholic church. There were many gentiles there who knew Tova Rog from the old days of the Communist regime. Apparently, she used to be an important person and they were happy to see her.

We went back with Tova to Holoby to get to the train station where the train to Kovel stops. The town is larger now and completely rebuilt. In this town is the government building and the courthouse. That is where the Ukrainians who cooperated with the Nazis were tried. The trial story was written down by Leah Rog who was a witness. The story will be published in the Melnitza book.

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One day before our return to Israel we took a trip to Kiev. We were invited to the house of Odl (Odi), the third sister of the Rogs. We had a gathering of relatives including one woman who is active with the Jewish youth and participated in a convention of young people who came to Kiev. We talked for about two hours. I told them about the kibbutz and about the country. The people were very attentive and were greatly interested, especially in kibbutz life. I believe that we will see them in Israel sooner or later. There is no future in the Ukraine. There is great disappointment with the new government and the poverty and hardships are tremendous.

We went back to our hostess Tova and her family. There we sat for several hours discussing the horrible past and then departed for the night. The next day at 5:00 a.m. our old hosts came to escort us to the airport, a distance of 50 kilometers. At the airport we met new immigrants who had returned from visiting their relatives. A flight of 3 hours and we were back at the Ben Gurion terminal. How good it felt to return to the dear, modern state of Israel after our visit to the diaspora. We felt we had accomplished our main cause visiting our town Melnitza, seeing the ruins of the Nazi madness and knowing that there is a memorial to all the Jewish people of the town who rest underneath in that terrible hold.

May their memory be blessed.

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Melnitza

This information comes from the Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Diaspora, Tel Aviv

A small town in the Kowel district, Volhynia, Ukraine; until World War II in Poland.

Jews started to settle in Melnitza when the place received the privileges of a town in the seventies of the 15th century. A small community living there at the beginning of the 17th century was affiliated to the Luck community. In 1787 there were 54 Jews in Melnitza and they lived in 14 houses.

In the seventies of the 19th century, there was a synagogue in the town. In 1897 it had 1,599 Jews in a general population of 2,588. At the beginning of the twentieth century Rabbi Abraham Finkelstein officiated as Rabbi of Melnitza.

In the second decade of the twentieth century the town became smaller and the number of Jews decreased to 875. In 1929 a community of consisting of a number of small towns was formed; Holoby, Troyanowka, Jesiezany, Maniewicz, Poworsk and Kopaczewka with its center in Melnitza; there lived the head of the community and its Rabbi, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Sfard.

In the frame of the community the children studied in a traditional “Cheder”. Between the two World Wars, they studied in the Polish state school and learned Judaism and Hebrew with private teachers. The plan of opening a Hebrew school in Melnitza came close to materialization in 1939 when the war broke out.

The Jews of Melnitza made a living from small trade and artisanship. In the seventies of the 19th century there were in Melnitza a beer brewery, two flour mills, a brick factory, 17 shops – most of them belonging to Jews, and twenty artisans, probably Jews also.

Between the two World Wars, when Melnitza was Polish, the Jews were organized in trade unions with the help of a Jewish bank. The economic crisis of the thirties in the twentieth century worsened the economic situation of the Jews too.

On Pesach 1932, the number of the needy was greater than of those able to help. The community was helped at this time by the generous donations of Melnitza Jews who had emigrated to the U.S.A. and Canada.

After World War I (1914–1918) branches of the Zionist organizations were started in Melnitza. In 1929, 23 Jews voted in the election to the 16th Zionist Congress, 173 in 1933, 49 in 1937 and 121 in 1939.

At that time Zionist activities were in the center of Jewish public life in Melnitza. There was an amateur theater where local and regional casts appeared.

In 1921 there were 875 Jews in Melnitza in a general population of 1,372.

 

The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the entry of German troops into Poland, the eastern region of Poland passed into Soviet Russian hands, according to the Ribbengtrop–Molotov agreement between Soviet Russia and Germany in 1939. Under Soviet rule all the institutions of the Jewish community of Melnitza ceased to function, Zionist activities stopped and the economic situation worsened even more.

After the German attack on Soviet Russia (June 22, 1941) Ukraine was conquered within a few days. On June 26 the Germans entered Melnitza. On the morrow two youths were executed having been denounced by Ukrainians as belonging to Komsomol (Communist Youth movement). Two days later 50 Jews were murdered for the same reason; they were denounced by the principal of the Polish school. The Germans also demanded ransom in money and gold from the Jewish community.

On July 16 all the Melnitza Jews were ordered to assemble, 280 men from among them were taken to the slaughter house and murdered there.

By orders of the Germans, a Judenrat (committee of Jews responsible for the community) was formed including the Rabbi and other notables; the Jews were taken for hard forced labor mostly cutting peat.

At the end of August 1942, German soldiers and their Ukrainian henchmen surrounded the houses of the Jews, assembled all the Melnitza Jews, took them to pits prepared beforehand and murdered them there. Those who managed to escape were later murdered by the Ukrainian gangs.

When Melnitza was liberated by the Red Army on March 16, 1944 only six Jews returned, the survivors of the Melnitza community.

 

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