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[Column 483]

A Deliverance Worse than Death

Translated by Yael Chaver

Buntsiye Feldshu of Lanowice (currently in New York), a mother of four, almost 70 years old, recounts:

I was married in Lanowice, and lived in a small house at the sluice, under a small hill. By working hard, I saved up money to buy fields and a different house. There was a garden next to the house, with beautiful trees, such as a very large ash. When we were driven out of the village, I wanted to cut myself a twig off the tree. Hiszke, from behind the hill – a tall peasant in a fur cap and boots –came up to me and started yelling, “Remove yourself away from here. You've lived long enough! Hitler has come, he'll kill you all.” Hiszke was poor, and I helped him – he used to borrow money from me. His son–in–law was killed by his friends, because they couldn't share the loot they robbed from the Jews.

I managed the household, and was always short of food and sleep. I would get up very early and feed the cows; one called Ruzhka and the other – Mankeh. I raised calves and cows.[1] After Hitler's arrival the two cows were taken by Nestor Voloszin, may his name be blotted out.

As soon as Hitler came, looters entered the house and loaded everything onto a cart; we escaped through a window. Our neighbor Vassil Payevski, whom I helped and did favors for, heard our screams and cries, but didn't even come out of his house.

[Column 484]

When they drove me out of the house, a peasant named Pavlo Lipka moved in. When summer came, he wouldn't even let me pick an apple, saying, “Go away, it's not yours anymore – it's mine.” Mikhaszke Stakhacz was a kind peasant, but he wouldn't hide us.

Because we were expelled from Lanowice, I went to Borszczow. Life was hard, and I had to go to Lanowice at midnight. I was often harassed and beaten. My husband was a glazier and had work sometimes; he would get food in return, and we had to carry it home at night. The children would cry bitterly until we returned to Borszczow alive.

Later, when Borszczow became Judenrein, we fled to the fields. I encountered a little orphan girl and her uncle, who was descended from Hutsuls; they allowed us to hide in a woodpile.[2] We stayed there during the worst of the cold. Once, Ukrainian militiamen came to look for Jews.They searched the courtyard, and we saw them through the cracks. They were near us. However, one militiaman had seen peasants running away and thought they were Jews. The militiamen chased the peasants, and our lives were saved. After this incident, the orphan girl and her uncle became very frightened and wanted us to leave. We wandered around for about three weeks, with nowhere to lay our heads. Afterwards, we returned and –with great difficulty – were able to get a small hiding place.

[Column 485]

The orphan girl let us return to the woodpile. At night, I would peer through the cracks and see Meir Nagler's daughters, Esther and Brontsiye, go begging food from the peasants. That corner (the pomnierkes) was where Moyshe Kimelman and Fayvish Nagler hung out.[3] I later heard their screams as they were being murdered. The peasants of the village themselves killed them; these were Taras Zsare and Vidyuk.

When the partisan units came and the Jews left their hideouts, the Banderovtsy killed all those who were left.

 

Abraham Feldshu, a glazier, aged over 70, recounts:

After the first war, livelihoods such as selling licensed liquor and keeping taverns started to decline. Jews in the village realized that land was very important. They started abandoning speculative trade and began to farm. There were two main opinions in the village about the future of Jews.

[Column 486]

Khanina Oyerbakh believed that people should leave and go to America or Palestine. Opposing him was Zelig Kimelman, who maintained that the Jews should stay and devote themselves to farming. He used to say, “What is Palestine, after all? Land and Jews! If Jews devote themselves to farming, Palestine will be here.[4]

There were two small synagogues in Lanowice, one for the afternoon prayer, and the other for the evening prayer. The gabbai of the Lanowice synagogue was Zelig Kimelman, and Fayvish Leybhart was the gabbai of the Kozaczyna synagogue.

I worked my field alone: I plowed, sowed, and harvested. In summer, when the heat was greatest, my family and I were in the field, harvesting. This is the field that Hitler took away from me and cancelled my ownership.

(Recorded in 1946 by Ben–Tziyon Feldshu)


Translator's footnotes

  1. Whereas the Yiddish onplekn and oysplekn indicate a revelation or discovery, the context points to livestock raising or care. Return
  2. Hutsuls are an ethnic group found in parts of western Ukraine and Romania. Return
  3. I could not determine the meaning of pomnierkes/fomnierkes. Return
  4. Emphasis in the original. Return


[Column 485]

Three Survivors out of Seventy
The fate of the Jews of Hluboczak

by Yitzhok Nayman

Translated by Yael Chaver

In 1936, I was a private tutor in Hluboczak; I taught children Hebrew and Bible.The village is seven km from Jezerziany. The houses are built on both sides of the highway. Poles lived on one side, and Ukrainians on the other side. Most of the Jews lived on the Ukrainian side. The roads were bad. In autumn one's feet sank into the mud, and tall boots were necessary,

Sixty or seventy Jews lived in the village. The families were Folkenflig, Shvartzbakh, Moyshe Shekhter, and Avigdor

[Column 486]

Kalmus, Mer, and Flam. They were merchants. Folkenflig and Kalmus were livestock dealers, Moyshe Shekhter had a grain store, Avigdor Kalmus was an egg dealer, Shvartsbakh had a liquor license, and his son–in–law had a grocery.

The Jewish houses were typical of villages, with low roofs. Folkenflig and Kalmus lived in small structures with straw roofs. Shvartsbakh's house was at the highway and had a veranda; it was known as an

[Column 487]

inn where one could stay overnight or order a midday meal.

Shekhter lived in one of the handsomest houses in the village; the Christians liked him for his honest dealings. “The Jew Shekhter is not a shokhrai,” they would say in the village.[1]

Parents made every effort to send their children to the gymnaziya in Borszczow.

The young people were progressive. Hersh Shvartsbakh and Yosye Flam graduated from gymnaziya. Moyshe Shekhter's daughter studied pharmacology in Vienna, Lotte Shvartsbakh attended gymnaziya, as did Shekhter's only son. The village had a synagogue, where young and old prayed.

The young folks had parties on every holiday, and invited Jewish youth from Jezerziany and the surroundings. The proceeds were dedicated to helping the new Zionist settlers in Palestine, and to the Jewish National Fund.[2] All the young people were Zionists, and were mostly members of the “Gordonia” and “Hitahdut” Labor Zionist movements.

Avrom Shvartsbakh's son–in–law supported assimilation and raised his children accordingly. He spoke Polish to them, and spent time in Polish organizations. Christian intellectuals often visited him.

[Column 488]

Under the German occupation, the Jews of Hluboczak – like those in Bilcze – suffered as much as other Jews in the area, and received no help from the peasants, although relations had always been good. The peasants of Hluboczak were wealthy.

The Jewish population was murdered by means of Aktions. The only survivors were Lotte Shvartsbakh, Lotte Kalmus, and Yosye Flam. While there was a Russian dandelion labor camp in Hluboczak, both Lotte Kalmus and Lotte Shvartsbakh worked in the camp's kitchen. The kitchen served the labor camp as well as the Polish tractor drivers. During that time, Yosye Flam and the Mer family also stayed in the brewery.

Lotte Kalmus's sister Lenya Kalmus was shot by a Ukrainian militiaman. He was a local, and had promised the girl that he would do her no harm. Lotte Shvartsbakh and Yosye Flam hid with a peasant after the camp was liquidated, and they survived until liberation. They later married each other. I met them in Berlin, shortly before they went to America. A Polish peasant agreed to shelter Lotte Kalmus on condition that she marry him. She kept her promise.

 

Clarification concerning the Jezerziany Judenrat, based on information from Zvi Fenster

The Judenrat in Jezerziany existed for only one year. Its membership varied from 7 to 9. The chairman was Mendl Meyberger, and the deputy chairman was Eliezer Raynshtayn. The composition of the Judenrat often changed: some paid their way out, while others paid large sums of money for the dubious honor. This was also the case with the Jewish Ghetto Police, which consisted of 10–12 people. Both institutions, tragic instruments of the Germans' Ghetto politics, with a few exceptions, preserved a spark of human decency.


Translator's footnotes

  1. I could not determine the meaning of shokhrai. Return
  2. The Jewish National Fund was founded in 1901 to buy and develop land in Ottoman Palestine for Jewish settlement. Return


[Column 489]

The Farewell Journey
(When Great–Grandpa and Great–Grandma left for Palestine)

by Ruchel Oyerbakh

Translated by Yael Chaver

Our family loved to tell the story of how my mother's grandparents went to Palestine as elderly people. They had married off all their children, and distributed their inheritance. Before leaving, they travelled around for a year, saying their farewells to family and close friends.

It is hardly surprising that their farewells took so long. They had ten children, as well as grandchildren and great–grandchildren; altogether, fifty or sixty descendants by then, scattered through the towns and villages of Galitzian Podolia.

They started their journey after Passover, and stayed for a while at each person's home. One son was about to marry off one of his children; another was about to have the bris for a grandson. In one place they celebrated the Sabbath, and at a different place they stayed for the festival of Shevu'es. When the time of “Ivan” came around, they traveled to Laskowice for the annual fair, and had a last meeting with everyone.[1] They strolled around the carts from which the non–Jews sold church bells, and the Jews sold enough silver candlesticks, forks and spoons, and wedding garb for an entire lifetime. This was where children saw “comedy” for the first time; and Great–Grandma and Great–Grandpa agreed to be photographed for the first time in their lives, giving in to their children after years of argument.

At the end of summer, when the meadow crops were starting to ripen

[Column 490]

in abundance and the nights became cooler, Great–Grandma and Great–Grandpa arrived in Zarvanitsiya, where a vidpust was taking place.[2] Jewish merchants and non–Jewish beggars and cripples from the entire region gathered; Great–Grandpa knew each and every one of them by name and story.

A week after spas[3] the old folks had to stop and stay with a brother–in–law in a village near the Dniester, because their mare gave birth. From then on, a colt ran alongside them. In the month of Elul, they moved on to Bilcze by the Seret River, as Great–Grandma's grandfather had founded a synagogue there, thanks to the goodwill of Count Sapieha.[4] Bilcze is where they started their married life, living in Great–Grandma's father's house; where their first children were born; and where Great–Grandpa now led High Holiday prayers for the village Jews one last time.

The short days, long nights, heavy rains, and muddy roads of Heshvan arrived.[5] Great–Grandpa and Great–Grandma passed this time resting at their youngest daughter's home in Pribuzna, warming themselves at the heated stove. They played balantsh with their grandchildren at Hanukah, ate knishes with gribenes, and handed out khanike–gelt.[6] They had to wait until the mud froze and snow fell, to continue their trip by sleigh. Great–Grandma put on the squirrel fur that had been a wedding gift. Great–Grandpa pulled on a sheepskin greatcoat with a large collar over his fur undershirt, put on a fur hat, and looked like a Polish diditch of the region.[7]

[Column 491]

They ended their journey at Purim. Great–Grandpa went to spend Shabbes with the Rebbe of Husiatyn. They spent their last weeks in their house in Lanowice, which they had passed on to their youngest son. Soon after Passover they left for Tarnopol by ox–cart; they were seen off by the entire village, non–Jews as well as Jews. From there they took the train to the port and the ship…

This is the tale of Great–Grandma and Great–Grandpa's farewell trip when Galitzia belonged to Austro–Hungary and was ruled peacefully for over 50 years by Emperor Franz–Josef, whom the Jews called Froyim–Yosl.

 

Three Generations Later

One generation passes away and another comes along; it has been three generations since then. My Great–Grandpa and Great–Grandma had people to part from when they left for Palestine to live out the last chapter of their blessed lives. They also enjoyed peace and quiet. But the years passed, and peace and quiet for Jews came to an end.

After World War II, only three great–grandchildren in France and in Italy remained of the deeply rooted, widespread family. Only five people stayed alive in Poland. In the village of Lanowice on the Nieczlawa River, where the family took root, the Germans exterminated all the aunts and uncles of my mother's family, with their children and grandchildren. In Czortkow, Jezerziany. Mielnice, and Krzywce all the relatives, close and distant, on my father's side were murdered. The very closest were murdered in Lemberg.

I am the very last of my parents' line. Nine years ago, when I was preparing to go to Israel,

[Column 492]

I had no family left to visit on a farewell trip.

Yet I did go to say my goodbyes to someone from my parents' village, as though I was going to pay a last visit to my parents' graves in my destroyed home.

 

Rochele and Aniela

Several dozens of half–Ukrainian Polish families lived in the Ukrainian village of Lanowice, among them the blacksmith Szczepan Dobrucki, who was our closest neighbor. He had eight children. My brother and I (there were only two of us) became friends with the blacksmith's children and played with them. Among them were our first peers and friends. There were also good neighborly relations between our parents. Differences of religion, customs, and nationalities were all kept within strict bounds and did not hinder the relationships; the relationships, as well, did not cross boundaries.

During World War I and the three years of Russian occupation at that time, the Dobruckis hid us and our belongings during Cossack attacks and looting. Together, we lived through the “retreats” and “liberations.” As far as we children were concerned, it was a wonderfully romantic period – the period of our first flowering.

Both families left the village after World War I. The parents died. The children kept in touch for a while, but relations grew ever more distant, until the beginning of World War II, the years of extermination. Jews tried to hide among Poles. The moment came to remember our former neighbors, the Poles. In 1943, when I left the Warsaw Ghetto for the “Aryan side” and needed to choose a name, I didn't need to think for long.

[Column 493]

My best friend among the Dobrucki sisters was named Wladzia. However, the three–syllable name of her younger sister, Aniela, suited me much better. Its three vowels resembled those of my name: An–ie–la /Ro–khe–le.[8] This is how, on one spring evening in the fourth year of the war, a poor Polish noblewoman named Aniela Dobrucka appeared on the streets of Warsaw.

The name brought me luck. I self–adopted into the Dobrucki family; this helped me to establish my Polish personality. Living on the Polish side, I carried around family photographs of the Dobruckis, and showed them around as photos of my family. I also used facts of their family's history as my own. I knew who I was, and didn't need to invent anything. Thanks to the time I spent as a child around the Polish neighbors, I was familiar with Christian customs and had memorized Polish prayers and patriotic songs.

I “misused” the Dobruckis' family traditions with a clear conscience. I was sure that if I had had contact with them, they would have been ready to do anything to help save me.

 

Pan Jan[9]

The war was over. Sometime in late 1948, a Polish newspaper ran a notice about a lecture by Rokhl Oyerbakh in a Jewish club in Warsaw. A few weeks later, I received a letter from Gniezno. Jan Dobrucki, the head of the family, was asking through the offices of the Jewish Central Committee whether Rokhl Oyerbakh wasn't the daughter of Khanine from Lanowice. A week later, he came to visit

[Column 494]

me in Lodz. We sat together a whole day and night, telling each other what we had been through. The Poles, too, had suffered much. Jan and his family had been expelled by the Germans from the Poznan region, and he himself had narrowly escaped the killings of Polish settlers in the former German territories. One brother had died in a concentration camp; one sister's husband had fallen in the battles of 1939. There had been natural deaths as well. Yet the family remained a family. They repatriated to western Poland and gathered in the Gniezno area.

As we talked, we immediately switched to old times. Being a writer, I'm writing a novel about Lanowice. I'm missing an entire group of figures. There was a Jewish muscle–man in Lanowice named Yantshe Fayershteyn. He left for America before I was born. I only know of him through anecdotes and tales that people used to tell, and his personality always interested me. Jan knew him as well and had been friends with his sons. He called him “Yanchuk” and told me all about his family and his unusual nature. Jan had never thought about a novel, but the old world lived in his memory and spirit. Before he went back, I promised him that I would not leave Poland without visiting other family members and parting from them.

I left to visit them the evening before New Year's Eve. It had been a mild winter up to that point. However, when I got to Gniezno the ground was covered by a thick layer of fresh snow. My plan was to spend only half a day there and go on to Suchary and see the other family members. But Pan Jan, who had been my teacher in the Lanowice school, and the first person who taught me how to read, decreed

[Column 495]

that I had to stay overnight in Gniezno and visit the cathedral where Polish kings had been crowned, and become better acquainted with his second wife (whom he married after the war) as well as with the widow of his murdered brother and the two grown children whom he, the childless Jan, was bringing up.

The next day Pani Mikhailina notices that I am dressed too lightly for the intense cold that has set in. She decks me out with a pair of her socks and a fur cap, giving me once again the appearance of a Polish Aniela, a sister of this family. Pan Jan puts on a shvitka and a karakul hat, and travels to Suchary with me on the small narrow–gauge train.[10]

 

Twilight

We arrive in Suchary at about 2 in the afternoon. The farm is large: seven cows, a few calves, a pigsty, a yard with chickens and geese, two pairs of horses. A thresher is working that day. It's clear that we won't be able to gather and talk before the evening.

The owner and head of family is Franek, in his early thirties, the son of Jan's older sister Paluniya.[11] Paluniya has been widowed, and she lives with her son. Franek and his wife Marta have three children.

I look at the children and have a strange feeling. I already had the same feeling in Gniezno, when I saw the children of the murdered Filip. In both places, the childrens' mother was an unknown stranger—but not so the children: Franek's young sons are even more familiar than their father, who has grown older over the years and more closely resembles his father's line. But the children of both families look almost exactly as their fathers,

[Column 496]

uncles, and aunts looked then.[12]

Then, over 35 years ago, when I climbed trees, bathed in the Nieczlawa, and ran barefooted in a world filled with light.

Paluniya, the grandmother of the Suchary children, now looks like her mother, the dear old “Dobrowckin.” To her, I probably look the way she remembers my mother, who died when we were still in Lanowice. She remembers my mother's sayings about various topics, her advice about cooking and baking, her home remedies. She looks at me, occasionally dabbing her eyes with the hem of her apron. She is all heart – mother and grandmother – and with part of her heart generously gives me the memory of my mother and my brother; and the tragic fate of my brother's children, although she has never seen them. She is very touched by my making the effort to see her in the midst of my preparations to leave, and thus fulfilling her wish to see me once more in her life.

“Your mother, the Khainikhe, was a good woman, a good person,” Paluniya repeats from time to time.[13] As far as she is concerned, there are still two types of people: good and bad. And really, has this distinction stopped being the most important one?

For the midday meal, Paluniya cooks a festive regional dish, which Jews would make on the first day of each Jewish month: dumplings with buckwheat porridge and cheese.[14] At supper time, she makes my childhood favorite: potato soup with milk. All day long, they feed me with apples and pears grown in their own orchard and brought up from the cellar. They fill a bag with hazelnuts to feed me on the way to Lodz, but mainly for

[Column 497]

the great trip to “Palestina,” the Holy Land.

And because they know I am all alone in the world, they treat me even more kindly and gently. They heat a room, and I hear the logs crackling in the stove. Paluniya brings me a down wrap of hers for my feet, and sits at the edge of the bed. The house is fragrant with apples, and garlands of dried mushrooms hanging from the ceiling. We have finished the third or fourth round of reminiscences. Paluniya has precise and wide–ranging recollections. Now and then there's a sigh and a tear, followed once again by our laughter about something or someone in our village. She remembers the nicknames as well as the names of non–Jews and Jews alike, which I often tried to remember for my novel but could not.

I fall asleep with the name of a village orphan girl, a goose–herder, who would walk on roofs and fence tops on moonlit nights, her hands outstretched, until someone woke her up one night while she was sleepwalking, and she was killed.

Her name, like the name of Paluniya's youngest sister – the name I used for a long time – was Aniela…

Very early in the morning, while I was still in bed, I was offered freshly boiled milk and another treat: the incredibly sweet and fresh four–year–old youngest of Franek's family—Stasia.

Neither Stasia nor any of her brothers had ever seen Jews, and they did not know they should be surprised when I came to stay with them. For Stasia, I am a ciocia like all her other ciocias.[15] She asks me whether I can milk cows, and I start telling her

[Column 498]

a story about a cat I had in Lanowice that had an ongoing fight with a rooster and lost an eye, and another story about a nice young tomcat who once annoyed a Polish army captain, and was then named “Captain.” These were stories I used to tell my nieces and nephews when they were small – when they were still alive…

Paluniya rose earlier than usual today, to save some time for me once again. She works hard. As long as she is alive, she wants to treat her daughter–in–law respectfully, take care of her son, and spoil her grandchildren. Her life is devoted to serving love, just like serving God. Neither the war nor the terrible murders have changed her heart by a hair – and may have even enriched her motherly spirit with more compassion and charity. She hardly ever leaves her house and yard, and goes to church perhaps once a year.

But Paluniya accompanies me to the small train. This is a special occasion for the whole family. The two brothers hoist their little sister onto a small sleigh, along with my bag. They hurry on ahead. Jan Dobrucki, lost in thought, tall and slightly bowed, strides behind us. Paluniya and I, linking arms, walk in the middle. Franek went over to his thresher. Marta stands at the gate for a while and waves goodbye to me.

This is how we leave for the train station at dusk, as the mournful violet sun sets over the tiny snow–covered village – a kind of incarnation of bygone Lanowice. Soon I will say farewell to my last friends in that village.


Translator's footnotes

  1. This reference is not clear, but may indicate Ivan Kupala, a native Ukrainian midsummer celebration. The timing seems right. Return
  2. Vidpust is a religious holiday and pilgrimage for the forgiveness of sins. Return
  3. Spas is a religious fruit harvest festival. Return
  4. The Jewish month of Elul is typically in August. Return
  5. The Jewish month of Heshvan is typically in October. Return
  6. Knishes are filled dumplings, gribenes are fried chicken or goose skins, and khanike–gelt is money traditionally given to children at Hanuka. I could not identify the word balantsh but assume it is a game. Return
  7. I could not identify the word diditch. Return
  8. Rokhele is an affectionate diminutive for Rokhl. Return
  9. Pan is a masculine honorific address. Return
  10. I was not able to translate shvitka, but it is likely an article of warm clothing. Return
  11. I could not identify this name. Return
  12. Emphases in this passage are in the original. Return
  13. Paluniya calls Oyerbakh's mother by a feminine form of her husband's name, “Khanine.” There may be a typo in the original, or it is Paluniya's version of the Hebraic name. Return
  14. The first day of a Jewish month is treated as a minor holiday. Return
  15. In many parts of the world, adult family woman friends are addressed as “aunt,” ciocia in Polish. Return

 

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