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Cholojow
(Uzlovoye, Ukraine)

50°14' / 24°33'

Translation of “Cholojow” from:

Sefer zikaron le-kehilot Radikhov

Edited by: G. Kressel

Published in Tel Aviv, 1976


This is a translation of “Cholojow” from Sefer zikaron le-kehilot Radikhov; Memorial book of Radikhov,
ed. G. Kressel, Tel Aviv, Society of Radikhov, Lopatyn and vicinity, 1976 (H,Y)


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[Pages 399-405]

The Shtetl Cholojow

Rav. Sh. Efrati

Translated by Angela Brice

At the edge of Galicia, at the border of Volhynia, lies Radziechow county, which includes six small towns: Cholojow, Toporow, Stojanow, Witkow Nowy, Lopatyn, Schterwitz (Szczurowice) -Strumilitsch, in each place the Jewish population was annihilated.

Radziechow was the county administrative centre and the seat of the county executor, and on the outskirts of the town, was the castle of the Graf (Count) Badeni – the owner of the large estates of that county. Every once in a while, rabbis from the above-mentioned small towns would assemble at the house of the young rabbi of Radziechow, Reb Asher Rubin (hy”d), in order to discuss how to stand up against some hard measures imposed by the governor and his assistants. Despite my young age, I often joined in these meetings, because of my proficiency in the Polish language.

However, from a different point of view, my hometown, Cholojow, was the capital of the area, for in it dwelt the honourable admor, (our master, teacher and rabbi) performer of miracles, the righteous Rabbi Reuven David Efrati the author of “Nahalat Yehuda”[sic] (“Yehuda's portion”) and the founder of this Chassidic dynasty. They came to the town in the period of office of Rabbi Reuven David, and when he died, his eldest son, the righteous Rabbi Mordechai Efrati (z”l), took over the seat. Incurably sick people were brought to the town, believing that they could be healed from their illnesses by the rabbi's touch. On an ordinary day, leaving the bet midrash, one could see them hanging around the door and outside the rabbi's house, cartloads of people who had come to receive the amulets and benedictions of healing distributed by the rabbi, which were of great benefit to those who needed them.

My Childhood

Two things remain engraved on my memory from my childhood: firstly, the laying of the cornerstone for the new synagogue, which replaced the synagogue which had been burnt down. In the middle of the yard sat my grandfather, Rabbi Mordechai (z”l), wearing a high hat, his white beard as long as he was, and many people forcing their way in to receive his blessing and to contribute towards the cost of building the synagogue. Secondly, there was a popular story spread about the cistern which was next to the synagogue, which could never be filled.

Many years ago, at the time when the synagogue stood on its mound, the lord of the town lived in his palace just outside the town, and he used to hate the Jews. He insisted upon building a Christian church next to the synagogue, so that the church bells would drown out the sound of the voices from the synagogue. The Jews' pleas were useless, even though they were prepared to pay for the land, if only the church would not be built right next to the synagogue. A tzaddik (righteous man) of that generation was passing through, Rabbi Naftali haCohen (z”l), and the Jews turned to him, pleading that he would pray that the lord of the town would not build the building, whose foundations were already laid. The rabbi answered the people's request, he went into the synagogue and prayed. After praying, he came out, wrapped in his tallit and tefillin, and began to circle around the foundations of the church. When he had circled seven times, all the building material which was in the yard and the church foundations sank into a deep hole where the earth had opened up and swallowed everything. The lord of the town was called to the spot by his workers, but all attempts at building failed. Thus the hole remained by the side of the synagogue, and we, the children from the cheder, used to come there in winter to skate on the ice in the hole.

A Disaster which Befell the Town

This was on Yom Kippur eve, many years ago, at a time when all the people of the town, including women and small children, had gathered together in the only bet midrash in the town. The men used to take the small children to the bet midrash, if they couldn't stay at home, and so that they would get used to the synagogue service. On this night the synagogue was lit by hundreds of memorial candles, which the people of the town had lit in memory of those who had died, as well as by the many oil lamps which the shamash (caretaker of a synagogue) had lit. A sense of holiness fell upon all those who passed by the bet midrash.

And I remember, that I, a child of about three, was also taken to the bet midrash, and they sat me next to my grandfather, whose usual place was behind the pillar, by the Ark. Of course, I fell asleep. And when I awoke, I saw the place empty of people, and I was the only one inside the lit place. I burst into tears and ran to get out. But here there were people standing, and they passed down a blackened body, by way of the window from the women's section. I burst my way through the people and made my way home, and then I learned of the disaster.

In the women's section, which was completely full, in the middle of the Kol Nidre prayer, a girl squeezed her way in shouting “Mamma, Mamma”. She had apparently come to tell her mother that the children, who had been left at home, were shouting, and she, the eldest, could not quieten them. The women who were then in the women's section were frightened, they had all left children at home, and they all began to rush towards the door and the steps which led from there down to the street. One lady fell, and another fell over her, blocking the doorway, and thus one was buried under another, the bloody harvest of that dreadful night was considerable: thirteen women met their death on that night, and everyone in the town was filled with weeping. I recall that for many years we would go for a walk in the cemetery, which was close to the bet midrash, but we were scared to go near the “Yom Kippur corner”, where the victims of that night were buried.

The Graveyard

Never in my life did I see a graveyard so close to the town as that in my hometown of Cholojow. As I previously mentioned, we often used to go there as a group when we were kids in the “cheder”. There was, at the entrance to the field, an ancient grave, enclosed on three sides by stones, with no headstone, as is normally found at the head of the grave. On the stone were blurred letters, and we kids tried hard to decipher the writing. There were many different opinions about the identity of the tzaddik interred within. There were those who said it was one of the great rabbis from Krakow, who passed through our town and upon seeing the graveyard by the side of the road, said, “Here I will stay”, and immediately, on the spot, he died, and in concurrence with his wish, he was buried there. According to his instructions, large stones were placed around his grave, and a large unchiselled one was placed on top. The place we visited most was the “tent” on the grave of the tzaddikim of the Efrati family, of whom the whole town was proud, together they would go to pray at the grave of the first rabbi of this dynasty, the author of “Nahalat Yehoshua” (“Yehoshua's Portion”).

Life in the Town

The town was a place of bustling activity and productive life. At the time of the First World War, a large part of the town was destroyed by troops passing through the town, which was then close to the Russian border. The town went from hand to hand, several times. Early on, the Cossacks entered and destroyed a large part of the town, and those people that remained were decimated by the typhus that the Cossacks brought. Many fled from the town, led by my grandfather, the rabbi (z”l), and his family, and went to Lwow. When the Russians arrived in Lwow, father came back to Cholojow, but grandfather remained there, and many went there to receive his advice and his blessing. Every year he came back to Cholojow for a whole month, and thus once again Cholojow was filled with visitors coming and going. They came in their carts from Witkow Nowy, from Kristnopoli (Krystynopol), from Kamionka and from Stojanov. Many came especially on the Yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of grandfather's father, the rabbi Reb Reuven Dovid (z”l), on the 10th of Tammuz. Grandfather remained in Lwow until he died and was buried there. He didn't ask to be buried in Cholojow, because grandmother had died soon after their arrival in Lwow, during the war when there was no possibility of taking her back to Cholojow. She was buried in Lwow and therefore grandfather also wished to be buried there, saying he did not want to leave the rebbetzin alone amongst strangers.

Return to the House

As I said, father returned to Cholojow when the Russians entered Lwow. Then there was an outbreak of cholera, which cost my family the lives of my honoured mother and my big sister, who died in the Radziechow county hospital. Before many days had passed, the Cossacks were forced to leave my town, leaving behind them destruction and desolation. In their stead the Hungarian Magyars entered and established themselves there. Like their predecessors, they also took over the bet midrash. But at least they did clean it of the filth that the Cossacks had left behind them, and in place of the stable that was there in the time of the Cossacks, they turned the bet midrash into a temporary hospital for the sick and wounded who were sent there from the nearby front. The situation improved and many people began to return to their destroyed homes. The Jews of Galicia were generally very sympathetic towards the troops of “His Royal Highness the Emperor” [Franz-Josef of Austria] (KYRH) and many of them made a living from the presence of the soldiers. The soldiers established their central bakery in the yard of the bet midrash, serving the front, and set up shacks at one end to serve as regimental headquarters under the command of an elderly general.

The Rabbi's House

Our house was next to the bet midrash, which was the hospital, and thus became a meeting place for the Jewish soldiers admitted to the hospital. Among them were some who did not want to eat from the general kitchen, and they would come to our house whenever they could get away. Many were those who came to satisfy their souls with a drop of kosher soup. There were also those who came to feign illness, so as not to be sent back to the front. One of them, a dear, pleasant lad that I met later in Israel, I remember asking me to bring him wood charcoal so that he could prepare a powder to put on his eyes, so that his eye infection wouldn't heal.

At that time, refugees were arriving from Schterwitz, Strumilitsch, towns that were even more damaged than ours – at the head of them was the rabbi of Strumilitsch, Reb Zushya Mazal, who in the course of time came to help my father in his judgments of Jewish law and became a dayan (judge in a Jewish court) in our town. He was a tall Jew, head and shoulders above everyone, and I loved to sit next to him in the small bet midrash, when he memorised the Gemara pages, about six a day.

Life Continues

Gradually life returned to normal, and people rebuilt the houses that had been destroyed during the war. The town managed to get used to life alongside the soldiers of the KYRH until the end of the First World War. After the war a Ukrainian government was established for a short time in a part of eastern Galicia and our region fell under its authority. The Jews didn't exactly rejoice at coming under the cruel yoke of the Ukrainians. However they didn't openly oppose the Ukrainian authority that was set up in the town. There was certainly hostility between the Poles and the Ukrainians. But the Jews didn't really take part in this quarrel, until a little local war broke out in Lwow – between the two sides, and the Poles reoccupied the region. The state of Poland thereby emerged which included not only the whole of eastern Galicia but also a part of Volhynia. The feelings of hate of the Ukrainians towards the Jews, rather than waning, became more intense, even though they didn't express it publicly.

The Bet Midrash

With the end of the war, and the evacuation of the bet midrash by the soldiers, it was returned to the people of the town, to fill its old position. And it must be said that the bet midrash was not only a place of prayer, but also a meeting place, both for learners and for the simpler folk.

When you entered the bet midrash, first and foremost you came across the learners, amongst them Reb Leizer the melamed (Jewish teacher), who, when he had finished his hard work, came to rest in the bet midrash. His “rest” was studying the book “Pri Megaddim”(“Fruit of Excellence”) [by Rabbi Yosef Teomim, of the 18th Century] and interpreting the Yorah Deah section [of Rabbi Yosef Caro's book “Shulkhan Arukh”], and he used to collect dozens of books and Gemarot, so that when he needed to look up and decipher the tricky bits, he had the books at hand. He used to carry on with his chanting until midnight. In another corner you would find Reb Vavy (Zev) Barasch, who came straight from his mill house, all covered in flour. When he found a youngster who was prepared to dive into the depths of the Talmud with him – he would sit down and study with him. He used to sway back and forth as if he had completely forgotten his surroundings. When the poor came to him to take flour on credit for the Sabbath, he used to forget to write it in his notebook. Also in the bet midrash, one could meet Reb Yudel, who came not only to pray, but also to study Gemara, and thus people could turn to him there, if they were in need of a loan, or charitable support.

The common folk when they had finished their work, and also the ones among them who were unemployed, met at the bet midrash. Here Jewish pedlars told how they met Ivan [a Ukrainian] and he was made to repay the old debt which he owed from a year before. Another told how the gentile Dimitri abused him, and set his dog on him. In between each story they sang a Psalm or two. Here you could meet the tinker, whose work was to cover and to repair the roofs of churches in the area. The master of storytelling was “Shabtil” whose work was to dye linen which the farmers made themselves. They were all precious Jews, who sweated to earn their poor bread, and the hands of the German oppressors, with the help of the local Ukrainian farmers, destroyed them all, may the Lord strike out their names and memory.

The Youth

The youth of the town were a lively bunch, who looked for a way to use their energy. They saw no future in this backwater town. Various youth groups started up, some Zionist and others Marxist. Whilst religious youths were focused on the bet midrash and Torah study, the secular youth gathered at the library which had been set up in one of the houses. Amongst them were some talented individuals, who began to write in various periodicals. But most of this group wanted to emigrate, since they saw no hope of building a future locally. These Jewish kids had no opportunity of working as clerks or in manufacturing jobs, apart from some small-time craftsmen who worked as tailors, carpenters or shoemakers serving the local population.

A small window of hope was emigration to Canada, where one of the members of the Gruber family had established himself. One by one, other members of that family moved there, and afterwards their dependants followed, and thus some of the youngsters were saved and made successful lives for themselves in Canada.

Education

The education of the Jewish youngsters was in the hands of melamdim, most of whom were not really trained for this holy work. I remember several of them, though hardly with affection! One of them was a glazier, and he would teach the children on Sundays and on the other days work at glazing in the surrounding villages. I, the youngster, was his helper and his right-hand man, in teaching the kids to memorise the lesson, and for a little something, I would get them out of recitations. Nevertheless, I am reminded of how we rushed pell-mell, full of innocence and enthusiasm to the “cheder”, in winter and summer, on rainy days and in the snow. Who can measure the ingenuity we put into making torches, by whose light we made our way home in the darkness of the night. It was a paper torch, covered in oil and stuck onto small wooden boards, with a candle in the centre, and it lit the darkness of the town. I remember, for example, another of our inventions. On the “Yahrzeit” days of the tzaddikim, we would cut letters of the rabbi's name from a sheet of paper, and stick it onto a coloured circle, then we prepared a needle and lit a light behind this and shone a torch on the other side of the needle, and thus the fire glowed round the engraved letters of the rabbi whose Yahrzeit it was. How enthusiastic and innocent were those days.

The Polish Primary School

In the town there was also a state primary school, whose language of instruction was Polish. I remember how my father (z”l), laboured and toiled so that we wouldn't be made to sit indoors with a bare head. A new headmaster, who had been sent for from Lwow, insisted that we were under no circumstances whatsoever to sit in class with kippot (skullcaps) on our heads. So I left the school. Up until then I had been top of the class. I remember there was one teacher, a Ukrainian, who taught history. When he came to describe the Cossack rebellion against the Poles, in the year 5408 [1648], he got very excited and described in detail each stage of the revolt. When he added that the revolt was aimed at the Poles and their helpers, the Jews, we began to sing rhythmically: “like Chmielnicki” [the name of the oppressor who spilt a lot of Jewish blood] and would not stop until he was forced to end the lesson. We knew that when we left the classroom, the Ukrainian kids would fall on us. When we were still in the school corridor, I organised the children, and those who had a buckle on their belts, took them out of their trousers and had them ready in their hands. And thus armed we went out into the schoolyard, to a fight between the Jewish kids and the Ukrainians. But we beat them, even though there were more of them.

The Maggid who Visited the Town

From the day the maggid came to the town, times were hard. With the establishment of the Polish state, which included the lands that stretched from Vilna in Lithuania down to eastern Galicia, the town was blessed with visitors, who brought with them a new spirit and greetings from the wider Jewish world. Special amongst them were the preachers and preaching maggidim from Lithuania – amongst them were many who were particularly skilled speakers. I was very good at repeating all the sermons of the maggid, complete with the traditional nigun (tune). A number of times, I was asked to repeat a specific sermon, before children or even adults. Not surprisingly, therefore, when I was sent to Lwow at the age of eleven to learn at the yeshiva, and came back for Passover, it was announced that I would give a sermon in the big bet midrash that afternoon.

The bet midrash was totally packed. I went up on the bimah (pulpit) and began my sermon, and many, including those in the women's section, began to cry at my description of the Exodus from Egypt. But my father took me down from there, apparently from some sense of the “evil eye”. But that didn't prevent me from going out afterwards and joining in the game of war and getting punched in the nose! After the Passover festival I left my little town and went out to study in the big world. But no matter where I wandered, I never forgot my birthplace, where the life of Torah and good deeds continued, until the wicked oppressor arrived to destroy it.


[Pages 406-408]

My Parents' House

Mordechai Reis

Translated by Angela Brice

The small town of Cholojow remains clear in my memory, even though I was born in Szczurowice (Schterwitz) in 1916. During the First World War, because of the presence of the front nearby, my parents moved to Cholojow and there they made their home. That was the place where I was educated and grew up.

With great respect and veneration, I recall my parents, my father, Reb Meir son of Bezalel Reis, and my mother, Taube daughter of Eliezer Zvi Charap. For a son, it is very hard to do justice to such a task, but I will try to the best of my memory and ability. My father was a Belzer Chassid, highly accomplished in his Jewish knowledge, devoted to Torah studies both day and night, and particularly concerned with acts of tzedaka (charity) and helping the needy.

For the first few years after he came to Cholojow, my father worked selling grain and tried very hard to bring up his children in the traditional manner according to the laws of Israel, and to hire the best tutors for his children, especially Torah scholars who were known to be devoted to their pupils.

I remember the pattern of my father's day: he would rise early every day and learn the daily page with his regular partners at the synagogue, then came the morning service, and then he would continue with his prayers and learning after work, until late at night.

Often elders of the synagogue would turn to him and ask him to join in the committee of the community. But he always managed to avoid any public role, for he thought that “it is not talk that is important, but action”. He would always answer a request for advice over a public matter, and would usually give a decisive opinion. He was loved and admired by all who knew him, and was always surrounded by an aura of loving kindness.

I remember an event which made for a great improvement in our economic circumstances. It occurred in the year 1926, a crisis period for commerce in general and for father's trade in particular. At that point he happened to meet someone on the train on his way to Lwow, a Jew by the name of Zalman Reisler, manager of a lumber mill belonging to the “Ojkos” company. In the course of conversation, he suggested Father try his luck at selling wood, and he was prepared to teach him and broaden his professional knowledge in this field.

The suggestion was very timely, and father turned his hand to the business of wood and the forests, in the beginning operating in a limited way, and afterwards, with the help of my big brother, Moshe Yonah, who was by then 17 years old, expanding his business and becoming very successful.

The new business was the centre for various activities involved in processing different kinds of wood, in the forest itself and also in the surrounding area, and also transferring blocks of wood to the lumber mill to be made into planks, etc.

There was plenty of work for all members of the family. I also worked in the business until the outbreak of war in 1939, which put an end to the Jewish presence there. Even when his business was doing quite well and he was accumulating wealth, it didn't affect my father unduly. He continued to follow his daily schedule, with study and prayer both morning and evening, and his behaviour exemplified the passage “vehatzna lekhet” (“and you shall behave in a modest way”), etc. Only a few years ago did I get to hear details that neither I nor others in the family knew: Father supplied firewood anonymously to the needy of the town. I heard other similar details from a survivor of the Holocaust, a former resident of our town, Mindel, daughter of Reb Shabtai Mirochnik, who now resides in Antwerp.

To my great sorrow he did not have a long life, he died on the 27th of Av, 5699 (1939). Maybe the merit of his deeds stood him in good stead and he was spared the atrocities of the Shoah.

My mother (z”l), a native of Szczurowice, was beloved by and devoted to her children and husband, truly her husband's right hand, she helped him especially in carrying out the mitzvah (commandment) of hospitality. She always knew how to accommodate my father's ways. After much wandering, suffering and agony, she arrived in the Busk Ghetto and according to what I was told, perished in Majdanek on Lag B'Omer 5703 (1943). My sister Sarah Beile and her husband Yehuda Weinberg, and their children Shaul and Tzilla, lived permanently in Sokal and perished there. My brother Moshe Yonah, steeped in Torah, and his wife Diske nee Hahn, and their sons Mordechai, Gimpel, and their daughter Tzilla died in 1943 in Rawa Ruska.

My sister Chaya was married to Aryeh Leibish, son of Berish Kohl, who was talented and well-versed in Torah and in literature. He was drafted by the Russians for army service in 1941 and never returned. His wife and two children died at the time the ghetto was liquidated. One son, named Berish after his grandfather, was shot in his sickbed by the [German] killers and Chaya fled with her second child, Meir, from the collection point. She was found murdered amongst the farmhouses, and the fate of her son remains unknown to this day.

My sister Malka jumped from the railway carriage on her way to Majdanek, but she did not succeed in saving herself, she was captured and shot in Lwow.

My brother Schmelki, devoted to Torah and Chassidism, died in the Busk Ghetto in the winter of 1943 from an outbreak of typhus. I must also recall my uncle Avrahamtschi Heilman, a Talmudic scholar par excellence and Chassid, who was killed with the group of Jews who were shot into an open grave on Yom Kippur at Kamionka. His wife and son, Nahum, were murdered in the Busk Ghetto at its liquidation. My grandmother Hentschi, a wonderful woman who always took care of everybody around her and never thought about herself, to whom hospitality was always of the utmost importance, died in the Busk Ghetto at the age of 84. May their memories be blessed forever.

I find it hard to describe their goodness, their righteous ways and the good deeds of all those I mentioned, and I do not have available full details of what happened to the rest of my relations and friends, whose destiny was no better, amongst all the stories of our brothers and sisters who were tortured and murdered. I will dedicate another few lines to the memory of my teachers and rabbis who treated night as day and gave to me more than was humanly possible to give, even though it was only a small part of their knowledge in Torah and wisdom.

I begin with my teacher, Rabbi Eliezer Witkowsky, who was called "Leizerke Melamed" (Leizerke the Teacher). He was a great Talmudic scholar and from three in the morning until midnight he would immerse himself in Torah and Talmud and sleep only two to three hours a night. His “order of the day” included teaching Torah to a number of pupils on whom he spent much energy. He perished with his family in one of the Aktions.

My teacher Rabbi Zeev Baras, who was called Reb Vavy Beile Devoyres, was a precious Jew, a great scholar renowned in the area as a prodigy, knowledgeable and erudite; he made a living from a small shop and a bit of land. He trained many pupils and devoted most of his time to them, teaching them Torah from the goodness of his heart. They excelled in their studies and accorded him much respect.

For a number of years I was privileged to learn Torah from him, along with his grandson, Nachman Glazer, who was also my closest friend at school. At the end of his years he lost his eyesight, studied Talmud and Mishna by heart, having a wonderful memory, but nevertheless very careful not to pray by heart. I had the honour to be called to read him the content of the prayers every day. He died a few years before the Shoah, thanks be to providence that he was spared the knowledge of the destruction of his little town, his pupils and neighbours that he so loved. His Torah learning and his righteousness stood me in good stead and are the reason I managed to escape from that slaughterhouse, and am alive here today.

It is not possible to do justice to all the people from the town, though I should, and I would like to be able to. I will mention one or two prominent men, like the head of the congregation, Mr. Isaac Kraus. He was a philanthropist and helped many of the needy; his son Shmuel, who learnt in the Antonia Yeshiva in Stanislawow, was very learned. He perished in Kamionka in 1942. His son Moshe survived together with me and with Leibish Reisler from the village of Babicze.

I will also mention my father's friends: Reb Isser Flaschner, who was known as Isser Chazzan (cantor), a Belzer Chassid whose voice stirred the heart his major preoccupation was the needs of others, collecting money for the charity fund and helping the needy; Reb Chaim Glazer, a Husiatyn Chassid, a great Torah scholar, knowledgeable and learned in all the matters of the world, and his son, Nachman, my friend at school and at the bet midrash; Reb Yehudale Spies, a Czortkow Chassid, another great scholar, and perhaps the greatest benefactor in the town. He established the local charity fund with his own money practically by himself.

I myself passed seven degrees of hell in several camps, the last of them, Janowska Camp in Lwow, from which I was liberated, by a miracle, with my friend Leibish Reisler. Praised be the righteous ones who gave us shelter from the time we fled from the camp until the liberation of our town by the Russians, they were Pavlo Lavitski and his six sons who helped provide for us and gave us a secret refuge. They proved to us that even where there are mostly robbers and murderers, exceptional people can still be found.

Victims from Cholojow


N.B. The translation is somewhat amateurish, partly due to my inadequate Hebrew and partly so as to try to maintain something of the flavour of the original writing- there are many expressions and quotations included which have particular significance to those who are knowledgeable about Chassidut, some of which may have escaped me. Similarly, place names may not always be entirely reliable, sometimes there are various possibilities. I can supply the original Hebrew spelling on request. I apologise for any shortcomings and will be happy to receive comments or corrections.
A.B.

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