|The Rochwerg sisters, who emigrated to Montreal in 1925,
as photographed circa 1923
From left to right: Ruchtche (Ruth), Raisel (Rose)
- the translator's mother, Chaya (Ida), and Marmel (Mary)
|Raisel (Rose) Rochwerg
|Aaron Moishe (Moe) Fraiberg|
In the 1930's my father came to France from the village of Ozarow in Poland. A hundred others came the same way, fleeing anti-Semitism and misery.
Today among the descendants of those immigrants, you can find a professor of medicine, two engineers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, businessmen people of every condition perfectly integrated in the French community.
To their ears the three syllables Ozarow trigger a reminder of frustration: the memory of their roots was stolen from them! Where do they come from? What did the village of their ancestors look like? And what was their life like there?
Whoever cannot know his grandparents, nor the faces, places, sounds and smells of where they lived is memory's orphan.
Eight years ago, nostalgia and curiosity led a small group of these descendants to travel to Poland to visit Ozarow.
There we saw an intact village, houses, roads, men and women. There were surroundings without a soul to animate them. Our capacity to imagine was not enough. How were we to find the synagogue of our parents in the movie theatre it had become? Or the life of our dear ones in those cold walls?
Emotion reached us only the next day, a few hundred kilometres away at a place called Treblinka, before a rock among many others, upon which was engraved simply, Ozarow.
In front of that rock my daughter Sandrine sang a poem by Bialik in Hebrew. And then appeared the grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins I had never known. And we all wept.
This pilgrimage to Ozarow did not permit us to retrace our roots. In order for our children and their children to have the right of every human being to know where they came from, it was necessary to somehow revive the atmosphere of the village of our parents and grandparents. To do that, only a person old enough to remember and young enough to express the memory could bring the flame extinguished in 1942 back to life. We were fortunate that Hillel Adler was among us and had the desire to respond to our call, which led him to devote himself to this work, his life's work and ours. We have also been fortunate that the importance of the task inspired him to summon up the past with such talent. Thank you, Hillel, thank you for enabling our children to remember.
|Grandfather Shloime-Isaac Cukierman, his oldest son Bairish and his wife and Moishe, the youngest son|
|Cukierman brothers Max, Yankele & Moishe|
It was the Rochwerg brothers, David and Israel, who first had the idea of writing a book about Ozarow.
Before the Second World War both were able to emigrate to Israel, where they were joined, a few years later, by other Ozarow natives, and they lived through the birth of the State of Israel.
They both felt the necessity to honour the memory of our families and of the entire Jewish community of Ozarow. Still, it was necessary to gather documents, and to undertake the work of writing.
In the years that followed World War II intense activity animated associations of Ozarowers: in France, in Canada, in the United States and in Israel. Those who had escaped Hitler's hell set about rebuilding their lives and finding a place for themselves. Unfortunately, the Rochwerg brothers' initiative was not echoed.
Yet, none of us was indifferent, since it was a matter of paying homage to the memory of our parents, and through them, to four centuries of Jewish life, lost forever.
During the 1970s, members of the Ozarow Society in Paris raised the same question: hadn't it become essential to establish a documentation bank? A committee was formed to establish the bases of this work, but once again the initiative remained unrealized.
In 1985, at a meeting of second generation Ozarowers, someone expressed surprise that this documentation still did not exist. He launched an appeal to make up for the lost time.
In November 1989, a group of ten persons made a pilgrimage to Ozarow and Treblinka. Roger Cukierman was one of them. In this way, he honoured the memory of his father Max who had, for many years, been the President of the Ozarow Association of Paris.
In Ozarow and Treblinka he felt, still more strongly, the necessity of perpetuating the memory of those who had disappeared.
I immediately rallied to his cause. Though in my seventies, I was one of the youngest who had been born in Ozarow and one of those survivors of its ghetto whose memory still remained alive and sharp.
Furthermore, I was quite ready to recall the Jewish life I had known before the war, as well as the sombre years of the ghetto during it.
Michel Gryner completed the team by translating as well as could be done those uniquely Yiddish expressions of Ozarow which were so pic
turesque. Let us recall that his father Maurice returned to Ozarow after his liberation from Auschwitz, hoping to find a few survivors, but had to resign himself to the brutal evidence. Not a single Jew was left there.
Not to forget Ozarow is more than a duty. We are, of course, thinking of the young generations, those who did not know our families, our neighbours, and in general, that way of life so characteristic of a Jewish village in Poland.
Some stories may strike you as strange or from another age. You may be sure, however, that they are typically Ozarow. They all bear witness to a truth and to values which have tended to disappear: solidarity, a sense of fairness, faith in the future, the desire to work for the progress of mankind, and a sense of humour.
This book is dedicated to the memory of our relatives who perished in the Holocaust. It is intended for the children and the great grandchildren, issue of a vanished culture who are searching for traces of memory. The pages that follow describe my village Ozarow as I knew it before it was destroyed forever.
This, translated, is what I wrote to Hillel Adler:
December 24, 1994
Mr. Henri Adler
148 rue de Paris
Dear Mr. Adler,
Maybe you will remember me. In 1966-67, I spent a year in Paris to complete my studies in law. During that time, on several occasions, I had the great pleasure of visiting you, your wife and your daughter in your home, where you always welcomed me warmly. It was my parents Rose and Moe (Moshke) Fraiberg who, before I left for France, had suggested that I look you up. The two of them, as you know, were born in Ozarow. My mother is also, in some way I no longer remember, the cousin of your wife Régine.
Through my first cousin Leah, the daughter of Yocheved, sister of my father, we had the good fortune to receive a few copies of your book Mémoires d'Ozarow, one of which went to me. It had been a long time since I saw my parents so animated. We eagerly pored over the book at their house just after coming back from the first shiva night of my aunt Mary (Marmel Rochwerg) who was buried on October 28, 1994, the day of my mother's 84th birthday. My parents laughed to tears remembering the town and the personalities of their childhood and adolescence. My father recognized the synagogue at the end of the esplanade in the cover photo. He recalled the funny story of the cheder teacher Aaron Big Ass whose pupils glued his beard to his desk with the aid of melted candle wax as he slept.
I began to reflect that I was one year, one month and twelve days old on October 22, 1942, the day of the mass round-up of the Jews of Ozarow. That has been the date which my father, having no other reference, has always observed as the Yahrtzeit of my grandparents Marme- Rivka and Yankev, and of his brother Naftule and the latter's family.
My father had almost always spoken of Ozarow with sadness and bitterness. Sometimes he told me of his excursions to the forest, of musical evenings at his parents' house, of his feasting raids on the cherry and apple trees of the surroundings, of a few incidents in the Polish school, of a neighbour boy's gift of his father's pocket watch in exchange for the piece of matzoh he had begged my father to give him, of his visit, at age ten, with his sister Yocheved to a fair in Sandomierz where he wept at the boxing match which saw a costumed, big-nosed chassid, flattened by the Polish victor to the wild cheering of the crowd. These have been only shreds of memory to connect me to a time and place only my parents knew, and which they and therefore I escaped, more through fortune than design.
But I had never come close to a sense of the big picture. From my assimilated and protected perspective, I could not imagine, concretely, the daily life of my parents and their families. When I was young, this absence did not gnaw at me the way it does now that my own children will probably leave Montreal to establish themselves elsewhere, and as my mother and father near the end of their days. The need to grasp the past and communicate the memory to coming generations has become more urgent. That is why I feel so grateful for the work you have created. You have infused me with memory I craved. It is also why, with your permission, I would like to do a translation for English-speaking readers. I think the story you tell may be of interest, not only to those who, like us, retain emotional or familial links with that vanished world, but also to a wider public.
I will do whatever is necessary to obtain the necessary funds for publication, and I expect no personal financial gain. The profits, if there are any, will be given to charity.
If you are interested in the project, would you please phone me or write me.
Awaiting your response, I am,
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