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(was formerly Janow/Yanov)


49°13' / 25°43'

Translation of chapter “My Shtetl Yanov” from

Sefer Budzanow
(Book of Budzanow)

Published by the Former residents of Budzanow in Israel, Haifa 1968


Submitted to the Yizkor Book Project by Florence Rodman Klevit
for the Suchostaw Region Research Group (SRRG)

[Pages 139-145]

My Shtetl Yanov

Immanuel (Donio) Ashberg, Rehovot

Translated by Dr. Hayim Y. Sheynin

Dedicated to my parents, my sister and to all residents of my town—be their memory blessed

Yanov, a tiny shtetl located between the shtetl Budzanov from one side and Trembovla from the other side, was populated by Ukrainians and Poles. In its center lived about a hundred Jewish families. The main occupation of the majority of the Jews was trade (sales and purchases); a small part of them were craftsmen, and an even lesser part were waged workers and clerks. Many Jews were poor people, and the life was difficult for them. They worked hard to gain a penny and, adding grush[1] to grush, to save a zloty[2]. But despite a hard life they were happy.

All the Jews lived as one close family. All of them knew each other from the youngest to the oldest. We knew all of them and remembered their first and last names. Everyone also had a nickname.

Our mothers also worked very hard. In addition to that they were housewives and helped the welfare of the family. They didn't have housemaids (maidservants). My mother – be her memory blessed – worked very hard. She was a very good housewife and also the one who was the main supporter of the family. She took care of me and my sister Batya – be her memory blessed – and was happy. She didn't have the living conditions that we have here in our land[3]. There was no electricity or running water in the house, and there was no gas. We didn't have an electric iron. Our iron was with the coals. There was no refrigerator or washing machine and no other basic utilities. Nevertheless we never heard someone complain.

We carried water from the well, and in winter also from the river Seret. This was an occupation that was called in Yiddish “vasser treger” (water carrier), which does not exist in our country [Israel]. I remember two of this kind of professional, Bertsi and Shaya, be their memory blessed. In every Jewish house there was a wooden or iron barrel, and a water carrier filled it for a couple of grushes. Bertsi carried water on his shoulders. Shaya was more progressive. He had a horse harnessed with a cart on two wheels and a big barrel, like Tevye der Melchiker[4]. He distributed water – in the winter with the “free addition of ice.” His mustache and all the liquid under his nose were frozen from the cold, and when he entered a well heated house, the ice which was under his nose melted and dripped right into the bucket and the barrel. The earnings of these two were very poor, and in addition to that they were blessed with many children.

Instead of an electric light we used an oil lamp. We bought oil in bottles in the store. We cooked our food on a stove that was heated by fire wood. We kept our food in a basement in order that it would not go bad. We didn't know that it could be otherwise. And everybody was happy with his lot.

We already said that all the Jews lived as one close family. We knew what was going on in every house. We felt much better on Shabbat and holidays. Who among us does not remember all the preparations, all the goodies that our mothers cooked and baked. In fact, they made everything to celebrate Shabbat and holidays with the best of everything. We all, from the youngest to the oldest, went to the synagogue. There were those who prayed inside, and there were those who chatted outside. Nevertheless, everyone went to the synagogue, the religious people and the secular ones.

No one of these two groups would desecrate the Shabbat and holiday. No one was riding on Shabbat, and no one ate non-kosher. We didn't smoke on Shabbat and kept separately plates and dishes for milk products and for meat products. I am not from a religious family, but nevertheless we kept all the laws of kashrut. I remember how my mother – be her memory blessed – sent me to a goy[5] to bring the milk. I went with three jugs in order that the milk would not be poured out straight from the jug of a goy. With the first they milked the cow, the second was used as a measure, and finally they poured milk into the third jug. On Shabbat I went to a goy who would light a match to light the stove in order to warm up the food. For this he would get a piece of chalah[6]. On the evening of Shabbat I went outside to see whether candles were lit in the House of Study[7] in order to learn if it was already permitted to kindle the oil lamp, although we weren't especially religious.

On holidays the young people had a lot of fun. Who among them did not receive some new clothes or new shoes ? Parents made extraordinary efforts to start saving money (at least) two months before the holidays, and they were very happy if they succeeded in giving their sons and daughters new clothes for the holiday.

On Shabbat and holidays we did not write. There was no Jewish school, and we went to the school of Goyim[8]. On Shabbat we did not study in order not to desecrate the Shabbat, and this was not agreeable with the Goyish teachers who ordered us to come to school and also to study on Shabbat. A delegation of Jewish dignitaries of the town addressed the administration of the school and persuaded the principal that Jewish children would come to the school after the prayers in the synagogue without pens, and they would not write in order not to desecrate the Shabbat.

In addition to our studies in the school, in the afternoons we studied in the “cheder.”[9] In our town there were several cheders. One of them was that of Yudel Hershel-Leib, another that of Shaya—be their memories blessed. Cheder like that was usually located in the living quarters of the melammed[10], a small room that also served as a kitchen, a dining room, a bedroom and a living room. We were crowded there, each sitting next to the other. We studied Torah according to the system of the melammeds of that time. In winter, because the day was short, we studied also in the evening. Every boy had a candle lamp because there was no lighting in the streets, and it was impossible to walk on a dark and muddied street. The lamp was very primitive—an iron box with a glass and a candle lit inside. We studied in the cheder even during the summer vacation.

In the center of the town groups of Jews assembled and chatted about any subject imaginable. The young people also concentrated in separate groups, or they walked on central streets, and especially walked outside of the town. They also feared getting a stone on the head from sheygetses[11]. The landscapes outside of the shtetl were very nice – fields, the river, and the forest attracted all of us. All the meetings happened in the bosom of beautiful nature.

The shtetl itself was charmingly beautiful. It was surrounded by the forest, the river and fields. Many houses were in the middle of gardens which were extremely well kept. Among such houses was also our house with the garden of which my father – be his memory blessed – took great care. It was full of beautiful trees, bushes, all kinds of vegetables and flowers. Also, the garden of Moshe Balaban – be his memory blessed – was very well kept and attracted a lot of visitors.

Almost all the Jews of the shtetl belonged to a Zionist club. There were two clubs: Hitahdut Poale Zion and Ahvah[12]. The meetings were held in the evenings and on Shabbat, and lectures were delivered on Palestine. Jews read newspapers. In every house there was a money-box of K.K.L.[13], and everybody contributed to the common cause. I was among those who collected money from these money-boxes, and I recollect especially the money-box of Berl Kahana – be his memory blessed—the husband of Sheyndl Kahana who lives in Petah-Tikvah. His money-box was always full and included a considerable amount of money.

There were two youth movements: Ha-shomer ha-Tsair and Ha-noar ha-Tsiyoni[14]. In the organization of Ha-noar ha-Tsiyoni I was among the leaders of the group. We met in the evening on weekdays and on Shabbat to listen to lectures on Palestine and to study Hebrew. We went on excursions and trips to the neighboring towns—Trembovla, Budzanov and Horostkov and made preparations to make aliyah[15] to Palestine. All the young people were raised to love Palestine and to make aliyah.

We didn't go to the movies or to theaters. There were no movie theaters in our shtetl. Among the young people there were some creative personalities. They would select actors among us and prepare a spectacle themselves with no professional help. They would stage usually very nice and entertaining dramas. Such an entertainment occurred usually once per year or even more seldom. There was no special club for entertainment in our shtetl. We used for this purpose a long, wide corridor in the house of Shalom Kornblau – be his memory blessed – or the similar corridor in the house of Leib Gur-Arye – be his memory blessed. We collected chairs from the houses of the entire shtetl. We constructed the stage from the lumber borrowed from the above mentioned Shalom Kornblau's trade company. All the works and the spectacle were realized by oil lamp lighting.

* * *

Everything above mentioned came to an end on September 1, 1939. The war started. The Hitlerians cruelly attacked Poland and advanced to our places enormously fast. We were all in panic. It was Rosh Hashanah. All of us were in the synagogue, we prayed enthusiastically. After the service the majority of the residents started to pack their belongings and to prepare their escape from the shtetl. I recollect that upon my return from the synagogue my mother – be her memory blessed – handed me a backsack with some clothes and said: “Do not worry about us, go with everybody. Save yourself! And tears covered her eyes and cheeks. At home there was no festive atmosphere of Rosh Hashanah like in years past, but this was a day of mourning. I worked then in Manheim Abramtzi's store – be his memory blessed—and although this was holiday, I went to help him pack his goods in the store. He also was in preparation to flee the town. The same was going on in the entire shtetl.

After the holiday we heard surprise news: the Russians are coming. They arrived on September 17, 1939. It was a big joy. We were saved from the Nazis. Again groups of Jews assembled, chatted, argued and waited. Polish policemen threw down their uniforms, the officers fled, and soldiers left their military units. At noon the first Russian detachments entered with not a single shot. Most of the officers in the Russian units were Jewish. We were happy that we were saved from the Nazi monsters.

Our saviors left a very bad impression on us from the first glance. Russian soldiers, as well as officers, wrapped their tobacco in a piece of newspaper and smoked it – we never saw this kind of smoking. And what buyers they were! They would come to a store and buy everything. Then we started to grasp what is awaiting us. Life became even harder than it was before. There was rationing in everything. In order to buy a little sugar or a piece of fabric to sew clothes there was needed protection with the vendor. There was liquidation of private stores and investigation of everyone's past. There was no end to investigations. Then Asi Pohoryles—the devoted Communist, disappeared. The trials of the Jews for their business started, and they usually finished with the confiscation of the property and exile in Siberia. Freedom and happiness disappeared from the shtetl Yanov. Zionist clubs were closed, and we lived in fear that some information on our past will reach our saviors because “Zionist” was a term for a criminal to them.

I started to look for a job, and after a long time seeking I found a job in a neighboring shtetl, Budzanov, which was located 7 kilometers from Yanov. I walked this distance on foot every day. There were no buses.

I and my friend, Koba Balaban, who also got a job in the same office in Budzanov, would wake up early in the morning and walk together to Budzanov, and after work we would walk back home. No one complained, we didn't think that it could be better. And here comes the cold winter. All the roads are covered with high hills of snow. We reach our work place several hours late. The Russian boss, the Communist, is angry for our lateness, but for the first time has mercy on us – he said he hopes this is our first and last coming late, he will not tolerate this a second time. After that we decided to rent a room in Budzanov and came home only once a week – on Sundays.

In this office, most of the employees and administrators were the Jews from Yanov and Budzanov. There were very few Gentiles. The Jews from these shtetls were noted for their knowledge more than the Gentiles, and they were more capable at office jobs. We worked, we excelled, but our fear of NKVD[16] and members of the Communist party, owners of a red membership card, didn't leave us due to continued investigations and trials. We suffered quietly. We were afraid to talk. There was no choice. We were getting used to this kind of life.

* * *

Also this situation didn't continue for a long time. On June 21, 1941 a new war started. Again Hitler started the war, this time against Russia, his ally. There was declared general mobilization. And I received a telephone call from Yanov, and I was informed that I was drafted. The next day I arrived home. My mother – be her memory blessed – again was worried about me, and the backsack was ready…however it was home. My parents and sister – their memories blessed – cried because I became a soldier and had to go for war, and when people go for war, who knows if they will come back.

I took from my pocket all the money I had, took off my wrist watch and handed it to my parents because I knew that it is safer to leave it with them, and maybe they will feel a need because they stay home. I grabbed the backsack and parted from them – I didn't think then that separation will be forever, that I will never again see my beloved family and my house. It didn't occur to me that there will be no one to whom to return. The tears suffocated me. All my dear ones cried. And I left confused and disturbed together with the rest of the youth from our shtetl to report to the Red army.

The suffering was great. Together with the youth from Yanov and Budzanov I reached Zhitomir which is located in Ukraine. Here we were divided into many groups. I parted from my friends and remained with a small group. I didn't see my friends again because most of them were killed in the front. The Hitlerians advanced very fast, conquered the entire Ukraine and penetrated a long distance into Russia.

In Russia we heard a lot about what was going on in lands conquered by the Nazis. We were informed about their cruelty. It was difficult to believe the stories published in the Soviet newspapers and on the radio. I always hoped this was just Soviet propaganda, and that I will find all my beloved at home, well and healthy.

Four long years passed. I happened to be in Siberia. I suffered quietly and hoped for an end and salvation. The Germans were in retreat. In the beginning of 1944 my shtetl was liberated. I sent a lot of letters to my parents in Yanov. I thought they were alive. I also wrote to our Gentile neighbors. To all my letters I received only one reply from a Gentile woman called Dzurba. Her letter revealed to me all the horrible truth. Yanov does not exist for me. My parents are not among the living. There is not my sister. There are no living Jews. Gentiles robbed our property, they occupied our homes. Our beautiful and famous synagogue does not exist any more. Yanov became one big ruin. From several hundred souls, the souls which were dear to me, only a few remained alive.

Today about ten people from Yanov reside in Israel, and a similar number are in the USA. This is a tragic end of our beautiful shtetl.

bud145.jpg  Synagogue in Yanow [55 KB]
Synagogue in Yanow

* * *

In Yanov I Am the Boss
The people of Yanov complained to Keiser Franz-Joseph about a single arrogance of Rabbi Parnas, their Head of the congregation. And when the Keiser sent the answer to Rabbi Parnas, the latter replied: “There in Vienna he is the boss. Here in Yanov, I…”

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Grush – a small coin. 100 grushes were equal to one zloty. Return
  2. Zloty – a name of the basic unit of Polish currency (equivalent to Russian rubl or American dollar). Return
  3. Our land – the author refers to conditions of life in the State of Israel after his immigration. Return
  4. Tevye der Melchiker – a character in Sholom Aleichem's work of the same title and of a musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” Return
  5. Goy – a Gentile, non-Jewish person. Return
  6. Chalah – a woven bread the Jews eat on Shabbat. Return
  7. House of Study – usually a separate room in the synagogue (could be in a separate building) for the study of sacred texts, mostly Talmud. The light there was lit immediately with the end of Shabbat. Return
  8. Goyim – plural of Goy (see above footnote 5). Return
  9. Cheder – a Jewish school for young children for education in elementary Judaism. Return
  10. Melammed – a teacher in a Cheder, sometimes called a Rebe. Return
  11. Sheygetses – a Jewish nickname for non-Jewish male youth. Return
  12. Hitahdut Poale Zion – Union of Workers of Zion, a liberal Zionist organization; Ahvah – Brotherhood, another Zionist organization of more religious bent. Return
  13. K.K.L. (Keren Kayemet le-Yisrael) – Jewish National Fund. The money collected in the Diaspora was for the purchase of land for the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine, amelioration of the land, and planting forests. Return
  14. Ha-shomer ha-Tsair (The Young Guard) – a Zionist youth organization of a Socialist party. Ha-noar ha-Tsiyoni (The Zionist Youth), a Zionist youth organization of a more general bent. Return
  15. Aliyah – a Zionist movement which aimed to colonize Palestine by building settlements and gradually going to the creation of the Jewish state in the land of our Biblical ancestors. Zionist leaders always assigned an important place to immigration of Jewish youth to Palestine. Return
  16. NKVD (abbreviation of Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh del) – Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs (the disguised name for the Russian police). Return

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