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My town and my home
by Henya Burko née Shostak
Translated by Sara Mages
Sometimes I think, that the hand of fate meant that only a few months before the great disaster, which befell the Jewish people and my family among them, I traveled to Israel in an illegal immigration. To my great sorrow I remained the only one of my beloved family. I was born in Olizarka Colony immediately after the First World War. Two more daughters and a son came after me.
I divide the life in this town into four seasons. Every season had different life. It seemed to me, that there was a particular smell in the air in every season and every holiday that followed.
I will start from the spring season. All the residents of this colony were Jewish apart from the members of a Ukrainian family who were the Sabbath gentiles. Each Jew had a plot of land outside the town. Next to each house was a garden where they grew vegetables for daily use. In the fields they grew potatoes and grains. Each person took care of the garden next to his house. In general, only the women and children took care of the garden because, immediately after Passover, the men traveled to look for work outside the town. Most of them were builders who built houses from bricks and not from wood. Since all the buildings in our town were made of wood, they had no income at home. All summer the women and children took care at the house alone. At times, when the men didn't work far away, they came home on Shabbat Nachamu, returned to their place of , and stayed there until Rosh Hashanah. I don't remember if my father was ever at home on the holiday of Shavuot since he worked in the cities of Rovno and Luninets. There was a great joy at home when father came home for a holiday. To this day I seem to hear the sound of my father walking home at night from the station. We, the children, welcomed him with such joy. To my great sorrow, the joy didn't last for many years because my father passed away when I was thirteen and he was only forty four.
Each member of our town, who returned home from the big city, wanted to bring something new to the life in the town. I remember Kuntzia Fish who brought an oil lamp to the synagogue. It's difficult to describe how happy we all were when he lit it on Rosh Hashanah eve.
This lamp added a lot of light and joy in all the holidays and especially on Simchat-Torah. The light of the lamp in the synagogue added light and joy in every home.
After the holidays the men traveled again to their place of work and remained there until the beginning of the snow and frost. With the first snow they returned home for the entire winter and began to look for other employment.They mainly engaged in peddling in the surrounding villages. Each Jew had his own village with his own gentiles. My grandfather had ta right on the village of Pulonov and it was passed as an inheritance to his sons.
The parents were very interested that their children would study and the studies began at the Hader.
I remember that my grandfather, R' Zalman, taught the alphabet to small children and the Torah to older children. The little ones came in the morning and the older
in the evening. I joined the little ones when I was five. Initially, I learnt the alphabet from him. When I was six, I remember as if it was now, a Polish teacher came to open the Polish School (Powszechne). Her first stop, when she arrived to the town, was Motil the soltis [village head]. On the same day that the teacher arrived I came to my grandmother who was Motil's neighbor. There, I learned that a Polish teacher arrived. I immediately ran to see her. She sat and read a book. When she saw me she motioned to me with her hand to get closer to her. I didn't understand what she said to me. Motil's wife was the translator. I was wearing a hat and she told me how to say hat in Polish and how to say nose-hand-leg. The next day Motil and the teacher walked from house to house to register children for school. When they came to us and saw me, she immediately tested me. I answered her in Polish: hat-nose-hand-leg etc.
We studied at the Polish School until twelve. In the afternoon, private teachers, such as Yitzchak Feldman zl, Yakov Weiner zl and, may he live long Mendel Schwartzblat (Shchory), came from Rafalovka to give lessons in Hebrew.
We studied there until evening. In the evening we sat next to the kerosene lamp and did our homework. Unfortunately, in 1933 our home life has changed. On that year several families in our town began to plan their immigration to Israel and my parents were among them. Then, my father got blood poisoning in his leg and died.
Of course, we remained in town without continuing with our plans to immigrate. To earn a living my mother open a store and all of us helped her. In this manner we managed to earn a living, but over the years we had the great desire to immigrate to Israel.
In 1939, we felt that a horrible storm was approaching. My relative, Reuven Patriel, told me those who manage to escape will save their lives. On that basis, I sent my first payment to Warsaw in order to immigrate in Aliyah Bet. My cousin, Eliezer Shostak, suggested that I would do it.
In April 1939 I arrived to Israel after a difficult and dangerous journey. I hoped that my entire family would follow me, and indeed,immediately after my arrival I wrote my mother to start to sell everything and get ready to immigrate to Israel.
No one in my family had saved himself. All of them perished. We had many Ukrainian friends. During the entire war I was almost sure that they would protect and save my family. After the war I even dared to write to one of these friends and asked him to write me what had happened to them, I've been told later by my friends, who managed to survive, that the friend that I've written to was one of the biggest murderers in the area. He gave the letter that I've written to him to one of my friend because he was too embarrassed to answer me.
For all these things I weep, for the quite life that were bought with great effort and lost with so much cruelty.
by Tamar Zuc née Dublin
Translated by Sara Mages
Almost fifty years have passed since the day I left you, my town, Olizarka. Fifty years separate our days from those days, and as is known, time doesn't improve the memory. However, you, Olizarka, etched in my memory.
I see you, with your small houses, with your people. I remember the poverty and suffering that was your share, the lack of constant work and the inaction of the growing youth who lived without an educational framework and a suitable school. I remember you on weekdays and on holidays. There was an atmosphere of holiness in you. On the Sabbath, and on holidays, you wore a different image. You were washed, rinsed and comb on these holy days. On weekdays, you were like the Sambatyon River, alive and kicking. On the Sabbath and on holidays you wore fancy clothes and calm prevailed in you.
I remember the youth that stood next to the synagogue and listened to the prayer that came from within.I remember the little houses, which shone in their cleanliness, the Sabbath candles - the light of seven days. This picture never left me in the fifty years that have passed since then.
I didn't see your destruction and didn't witness your extermination. I was far away. I, my husband and several other families, left with the Russian Army to the wide open spaces of the depth of the Soviet Union.Hard times have befallen us in the Soviet Union, days of hunger, hard work, life without hope and the death of a daughter. But the suffering, that befell the home of my dear parents and the people of Olizarka and the entire area, increased the sufferings. From wounded soldiers, who returned from the front, we collected any information. We heard about the destruction and devastation, hunger and humiliation, about despicable death and mass executions.
And the question that was asked then, and also asked today, how all martyrs and all the believers have found their death, for what and why?
by Sara Rozenfeld née Dublin
Translated by Sara Mages
You were small, my town, a remote corner hidden behind a thick forestof pine trees, a tiny dot in the large area of Poland.
I remember, I was a small girl, a student at the Polish School, the map of Poland in my hands. I search for you on the map, Olizarka, and didn't find you. You were tiny, so small, and there was no sign of your existence on the map. A small settlement, a tiny dot in the Volhynia Province. And how great was my love for you.
I loved you the way you were, with your small houses, the dirt road, the pear and cherry trees and your people. Simple people, hard working people who knew the taste of poverty and repression, people with deep faith and kindness.
Some of the men in town were called Storks - bocianes in a foreign language. For many years I didn't understand why this nickname was attached to them until one day I received an explanation from my father zl. Storks are faithful to their nests even if they wander far. They always return to the roof-their nest. So were the men of Olizarka, carpenter, tailors, plasterers and builders. In the summer they wandered to the big city to engage in their work and returned home before winter, to the family nest.
How much I loved you my town. I was always full of faith that you're the best and most beautiful place on earth. I liked the small alley, the main street, the Shlyach, the one and only street, the houses along its two sides - each house and its age, each house and its story. My father's house was in this street, a big and specious house, a little taller from the neighbors' houses, the house of Baruch the slaughterer. Many youthful memories and experiences relate to this house, its steps and the wooden bench next to it. On this bench my girlfriends and I weaved dreams about our world, our future, and what we would do when we grow up. From this bench our eyes followed the youth, the adults, who walked to the grove near the town, and there, they debated about the problems of the world. We so wanted to participate in the heated debates, be partners of the secrecy that surrounds their meetings.
In this grove the legend of a better future, the faith in man, regimes and ideals was hatched in secret. There, they sang the songs of tomorrow, passed books from hand to hand, banned books that somehow arrived, books that hidden from children and parents alike.
In the center of town - the synagogue which served as a place for prayer, a gathering place for various preachers who occasionally came to our town.
In this synagogue was also the Hebrew School.
Prayers and pleadings emerged from this holy place in the early hours of the morning, and in later hours jubilant singing in Hebrew: Sham Shualim Yesh [There are foxes there] or What's in the box. This singing in Hebrew, by dozens of children, was the moving spirit that linked between the poverty of the town and the atmosphere of Eretz-Israel.
It's impossible to forget the memories of the past. I will not forget you my town, I will not forget the moments when all the residents, men and women, youth and children, stood together and gathered every spark of information of what was going on. I wouldn't forget when the entire town was in turmoil of war - who, what, against whom? The youth collected every piece of newspaper and brought it to town, those, who returned from the city, were asked what they have heard, what to do?
In 1939 the Russians entered. The town's youth was happy. They have dreamt about this regime. The elderly shook their heads and said, almost in a whisper, the barefooted have arrived. However, both groups derived pleasure from it.
Life went on smoothly. The Russians arrested a few people that they suspected to be haters of the nation, and it was quiet in town.
It wasn't so in 1941, the fatal year.
I will not forget you, my town. I will not forget the destruction of my little town and the home of my father and mother that was also destroyed. I remember the Russians leaving the town, leaving, fleeing. Whisper passed in the town: the Germans are coming. Our home is full of people. This time they didn't come to our home to buy candles or yeast for the Sabbath, also not to receive charity, but, for consultation, for advice, to exchange ideas, what to do, where to go, to follow the army to the Soviet Union, or to stay. A few took the wandering staff and left by a difficult route. Most stayed in the town. The consideration was simple, how can we leave our home? How can we leave a cow? How to leave a few assets, and where to? What awaits us there? And as usual, the conclusion, what would happen to the all the Jews would happen to R' Yisrael, and most of them stayed.
The gentiles from the nearby villages used the interim period. The Russians left, the Germans haven't yet entered. Bandits and looters wander in the town. Those who were yesterday friends, today don't know, don't recognize, ignore, help themselves, demand, threaten, swear that Hitler would come, search for jewelry, silver, and gold objects.
The young girls, the town's girls, were prey. Every evening they look for a place to hide, just not to sleep at home. My father zl brought me every evening to the forest to sleep among the bushes because it was dangerous for a young woman to be at home. Roman, the son of Ovdoska the Sabbath gentile, conducts the task. He became the leader. He grew among us, was like one of us. To one he's a friend, consults in secrecy, advises and direct and to the other he sends a looting group. The situation deteriorated, from where salvation will come?
The decision comes from above. All the Jews from small towns and village concentrate in Rafalovka. Olizarka was wiped out. The last Jews left you, my town. This picture, the moments of departure, stand before my eyes. It was at an early hour of the morning. We didn't sleep all night. We packed a few cloths, personal items, a little food and left for the road. I cling to my mother, my hand in her hand, walking forward. My father and my brother Levi, the diamond in the crown (my father hoped to see him seating on the rabbinical chair) stopped by the mezuzah
their lips clung to the mezuzah and a silent prayer in their mouth, a prayer for the abandoned house and a prayer for your safety, Olizarka.
Rafalovka wasn't a salvation station. The Jews of Olizarka settled at the homes of acquaintances or relatives. We settled at the home of my sister, Mindel, who moved to live in Rafalovka after her marriage. A few days later the area, in which we lived, was declared a ghetto and only here the torture began.Ostensibly, hope was throbbing and faith has not passed.
Contribution quotas have been imposed.
We left to do all sorts of menial work with the faith that all this will pass and we will return to normal life. The reality was different. People were humiliated and didn't know what would happen next.Rumors about the liquidation of the ghetto, the digging of pits, mass murder and total elimination passed by word of mouth.
I cannot bring to my lips the memory of those days. How is it possible to talk about what happen and continue? There are things that a person cannot hear and say. The moments of separation from mother and father, the separation from the family under these conditions is etched deep deep in my heart. They would never sink into oblivion.
Evening, my father is wrapped in his tallit as in Yom Kippur eve. The people in the house stand crowded and silent. Neighbors, friends, relatives - everyone is speechless. My father, who is wrapped in his tallit, communed with his Creator, his eyes glistened when he finished his prayer, he kissed his tallit and said in a clear and calm voice children save yourself, there's no hope, tomorrow everyone will walk to the pits. Panic held us when we heard these words from my father. I approached him, hugged him, he stroked my head and said you, Levi and Mindel hide tonight. When you have the opportunity, escape and save yourself. Mother and I would leave for our intended path with the entire community as the Creator wanted. They never return from there. It was Saturday morning. I kissed my father and mother a last goodbye kiss. My brother Levi has done the same. We entered the bunker and they left.
I was the only one who fulfilled my father's will, to survive and continue. My brother, my sister and her family also perished. In my wanderings in the forests of Olizarka and Pinks, when I walked with a group of local Jews near the partisan brigades and after them, I've heard my father's pure prayer and my mother's blessing for my life, to be a candle and a scion for the entire family.
After leaving the bunker, which we built at our house, my sister Mindel and her husband left for the Polish colonies. My brother Levi and I hid in the nearby forests. After many suffering and wandering we joined a group of Olizarka's Jews. They came early, they knew their way in the forest.
We were together. We shared our bread. We hid during the day in hideouts, which were prepared by the men, and left at night for prey. We raided the fields, collected potatoes and everything else we found there. Not once we knocked on the doors of the farmers that we knew and they didn't send us empty-handed.
The difficult winter, and the rumors that they are looking for us in the area, were the reason that we wandered
from place from place. From time to time we changed direction. We got close to partisan groups and wandered with them. Many left for the forests. Few returned. Local famers revealed the location of the Jews' hideouts to the Germans in exchange for one kilogram of salt, and the Germans finished the job.
One day, and I would never forget that day, I left with Leah Pinchuk to a gentile woman that we knew to ask for shoes. The winter was difficult and there was a lot of snow. The gentile woman, her name will be remember for the best, promised to get us pustelus, shoes that the villages made out of thin tree bark. In the meantime she fed us and gave us bread. When it got dark we were about to return to the forest, to our hideout. Heavy snow was falling and it was dangerous to leave the house. The kind hearted gentile felt pity on us and didn't want to send two young women from her home.She was afraid that we will not be able to find the way and something would happen to us. We stayed and slept at her home. At that time, the fate of my brother and the entire group has been sealed. When we arrived to the hideout we found charcoal embers from the fire and a dead man lay next to it. The others were also murdered in cold blood. Among them was also my brother that I admired and loved so much.
There are events that would never sink to the abyss of oblivion. Two young women stand hugging each other, each in the other's arms, silent in the middle of the forest, next to the body of a murdered man and a whispering fire. Stand and wait for a miracle, to a hand that would help them, show them the way and open a gate. The gentile woman saved them with her mercy when she didn't let them return at night, and now, what would happen to them? I sent a pained howl and rage to this bloody night and told Leah we have nothing to do here we will go to my sister's hideout. Also this hideout was eliminated, the murderer also came here. The three of them were murdered, my sister, her husband and their daughter.
Will salvation come! Where from? We debated where to go and what to do like two birds with clipped wing that lost their nest. We almost decided to walk towards death, but the will to live and the command, my father's last words, children, save yourself, saved our life. We left for a new hideout. The hideout, of a group of Jews, was attached to a partisan brigade in the area. Until the danger pass, to hold on, to continue, continue.
Maybe the epidemic will end, maybe the sun will shine and the world will be healthy and sane again. When the fanfare of victory was sounded I knew that I was alone. I was left alone. I knew the faith of the members of my family. I heard their cry, their last pain.
I search for my sister Tamar and her husband and found them. They left for the Soviet Union and now we were reunited.
We didn't place a memorial on the mass grave in Rafalovka. This time we left Rafalovka together with the survivors. Despite the difficulty we left with the help of the Bricha to find a place of rest. To exit and leave the earth saturated in the blood of the martyrs, to get to a place of rest. After a lot of wandering we arrived home, to Israel. I settled among the members of my nation and established a family. However, I would never forget the horrors of those days. In the words of the poet [the Vow by Avraham Shlonsky]:
On behalf of my eyes, that saw the bereavement
I vowed to remember it all,
To remember - and not to forget a thing.
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