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[Page 328]

The Tragic End of the Korniv Jews

Aryeh Lagstein

Translated by Dalya Yohai

In the village of Korniv, in the county of Horodenka, there were 20 families, mainly involved in small businesses or agriculture. The main farm also belonged to a Jewish family – the Rubels. They were known for their wisdom. Some of the younger generation held academic titles. There were also Hebrew speakers among them and the village became a center for Zionist activity.

The two oldest families were the Lagsteins and Rubels and they were connected by marriage. These families were very influential in the village.

As one of the small group of survivors from Korniv, I would like to talk about some of the earnest people in the village:

Dr. Shlomo Zalman Lagstein was a successful lawyer, an economist and agronomist, a fine and beautiful soul, learned in the Bible and very devoted to the Zionist idea. He took care of his fellow Jews until the last moment of his life. In terrible times he went to the Gestapo's commanders and spoke on behalf of his brothers. A couple of times he succeeded in saving them; but not for long. The destruction man chine worked in time and in 1942, during the last “action” in Horodenka, he went with his fellow brothers and sister to Belzetz. Even during those days he continued writing his book Pax Vobicum. In it he wanted to tell about the horrors. But this manuscript died with him. Very deep in my heart is his memory engraved; he was unique among the Jewish Polish community.

Aaron Lagstein founded the Buslia in Kornev and the other villages around. He also founded the Hit'achdut movement and Poalei Zion. He was also a member a HaChalutz and was prearing to move to Israel. But he was murdered before he could realize his dream. He was killed in Horodenka during the first “action.”

Yedel Bercher was a good hearted, innocent man and always helped anyone in need. A couple of times a week he would come to Horodenka and bring dairy products; he always asked everybody what they needed. He was killed in Botchash in the of the Actions.

Among the elders, Rabbi Nehemya Machen Lagstein was a real scholar and a devout man. His home was used as a synagogue. Sometimes on holidays and Shabbat he officiated with a Bible. He was a respectable figure.

Rabbi Eliezer Rubel was the owner of the farm in Korniv. Despite his status he was one of the community. He and his family were involved in community life and participated in Zionist activities. During the was he was exiled to Siberia and died there.

[Page 329]

The Fate of a Picture

Mendel Dul

Translated by Harvey Buchalter

I have been asked to set forth some memories of Horodenka, and I beg the indulgence of my former students from Horodenka if my present perspective makes me now see certain things differently than I did before. Over three dozen years have gone by since those times, and each of you has experienced them in your own way, and none of the details have been lost.

I lived in Horodenka for five years, from September 1924 to the end of 1929. I was a mathematics and religion teacher in the gimnasia there. This was the beginning of my career. I lived in the residences of my students and, along with their parents, was immersed in the ups and downs of their lives. The town was as dear to me as the town of my birth, and even years after my departure, as I would randomly run across a former student or an acquaintance from Horodenka, my happiness was equal to the happiness of someone who runs across a dear friend from bygone days. When I began my tenure, there were ten-, twelve-, or perhaps fifteen-year-old children, who, in the course of five years, developed physically and emotionally. They went from being small, quiet little children to mature young adults with both a worldly outlook and broad horizons. Many of them continued their studies after completing the hoich shul and moved all over the world. Many now live in Israel and have very important positions and are useful citizens. Sarah works as a nurse; Sala, Gedalia, and Kalman are attorneys; Fala is a diplomat; Yehuda and Atek are engineers; Imek is a physician; Milos is a well-known urologist; Olis is a chemist; Max and Mashke are pharmacists; Necha is a community activist, and so on. I frankly didn't recognize some of them. The little children of the old days had become fathers and mothers themselves. They experience the joys and worries of their own children, and perhaps even with their children's children. I now recall two fragments from my store of memories.

The year is 1928. It is somewhat hot outside, but we d0n't feel it in our classroom. The old building housing the Horodenka gimnasia has a large open space in front, with many old trees and in the rear, the rocky, sloping meadow. The seventh grade class is divided into two sections: roughly twenty Jewish students go to the class devoted to studying religion, and eight Christian children remains. (This is meant to satisfy the priest and also the predominant ethnic group.) When the bell clangs both students and teachers knows that the break has come to an end. Silence reigns in the classrooms. A young teacher enters the religion classroom. She has black curly hair. She glances at the students and says, “Today we are going to study the story of Joshua.” Each student is at a different level. The students whose Hebrew reading skills are weak protest.

But those who had gone through cheder are anxious to read. Kalman quickly opens his Bible. His bright face beams with joy. “Yes, yes,” he says, “I want to read.” “Teacher, I want to read,” Yehuda shouts.

And the always eager Sala opens his eyes wide, raises his hand and looks at the teacher. Even Emek, who secretly reads books on his own during the lecture, tears his eyes away from his book and looks alternately from his teacher to the other students. Davka reads first. His final few words are delivered with a resounding voice, and then he sits down once again.

“Teacher,” asks Sigmund who was raised an orphan by his uncle, a religion teacher as his father, an attorney, lived in Zaleshchiki, “will Israel rise up to be the light of the world, as the prophet foretells? And if so, will we live to see it?”

“Yes,” Sala answers him convincingly, and reads the text.

“Yes,” says Yehuda. “We, our generation, hope to see it happen in our lifetime, and the prophecy will come to pass.”

The class becomes animated; a lively discussion ensues. Even those students who resist reading the Bible listen quietly to what their comrades are saying. They don't hear the bell clang, which indicates that the class is ending, that the “break” is coming to an end. The shamas Brevovski claps his hands to give notice that the teacher in the next class is waiting for his students.

There, in front of the class, stands the Latin teacher Bongarten, who every one calls “Ficus.” He demands, “Why did you keep them for so long? You were probably telling the entire story of the Exodus.”

A year later in the display window of Stefanovitch's bookstore there hung a photograph of all of the students and teachers in the eighth grade. For an entire week, parents, relatives, acquaintances and random passers-by, both Jews and Polish, went to look at the photo. This was the first ever class-photo, and it created quite a sensation.

Look at it, one student would say to another. The one in the Slovakian shirt is Emek, the one with the stiff collar and necktie is Sala, and the one in the middle is Maska. But our class picture next year will be even better, they would say.

The year is 1943, barely fifteen years later, in Berzin. The Jews are concentrated in the ghetto. There are epidemics, round-ups, hunger, and deprivation; each day results in more deaths. Only a few individuals reside outside the ghetto. In the two-story house of the Ukrainian Social Club, in the large meeting room, an official presides. He is a Karaite, and can prove this with his documents. (Karaites are a sect on the fringes of Judaism. They reject the Talmud, and evidently were not “counted” as Jews.) His superior officer, Paslovski, is satisfied with his work. All of the directors — there were three of them — know that he is a good worker, and a mathematics instructor. But every day they look him over very carefully to see if he could possibly be a Jew. And the boss tells him from time to time that his wife is also a teacher and that she comes from Horodenka. Another time he tells him that a certain Dr. Grubin, a Pole, used to work for the German Red Cross, but was soon found out to be a Jew from Vizhnitza, and that his real name is Dr. Rubin. He fled, and as he tells the story, he looks me up and down to see what kind of impression it has on me. In fact, every day he would tell me stories such as this, especially on the days that round-ups took place. He would speak to me this way, as the streets ran with Jewish blood. Sometimes I let my mind wander.

Once I started to think about being in my old classroom. The children are studying when suddenly I hear the familiar voices of daavenning ... This is how I went about my work.

Once, after a dawn round up, he came into the office very happy to tell me that he had found a new place to live, a small one-family house with a vegetable garden. He had taken over the residence of Baumgarten, one of the Jews appointed to oversee affairs in the ghetto, who had been killed several days ago. Baumgarten had two sons, one of whom had been a teacher in Horodenka, and among the books in the house was a school yearbook from the Polish gimnasia in Horodenka. In it he read that there was a teacher of Jewish religious studies that had the same last name as I had, but with the name of Mendel. He was a Karaite with the name of Maximilian, and ... a mathematician. He also discovered a photograph there, but, he said, the religious studies teacher in the picture did not resemble me.

The fate of a picture!

Two weeks later I resigned from this post and found another with the Polish Relief Committee.

The War came to an end. I was no longer useful to them, neither was my wife and child. Now I live in Haifa. And the first picture of my class in the Polish Gimnasia in Horodenka remained in Berzin with Paslovski.

[Page 331]

My Father

Martin (Motl) Birnboy

Translated by Harvey Buchalter

And I will never know
Where your final cry was silenced.
Not which horrors of your final hours
Brought you
To your death.
The messenger of death brought me the letter.
And something tore me up inside.
And with weighted weariness, I closed my eyes.

I had no tears.
So many Jews, so many Jewish fathers taken.
How can I weep for one alone?
Alone, I capture you in imagination for one last time.
To see you, for the last time,
With a smile.
On the train station in Horodenka,

And now, perhaps,
If your yahrtzeit falls, or has come and gone.
But you never taught me the Kaddish customs, the Yahrtzeit rites,
You invested belief in people, a boundless civilization.
Your faith invested in Everyman.

You were proud.
A proud Jew with worldly tastes,
The worldly life was your ideal.
Your sustaining breath breathed life into our home.
You were smart, and up-to-date and clever.
In old Horodenka,
Your words caused others to think,
Your thoughts dwell in their memory.

Where did your insights stem from?
This life battered you, orphaned and poor.
Still you opened your eyes to the world.
Poor, through war and pogrom.
Through hunger and want.
You made your way through 1ife,

Like the waters of a wide stream, a whirlwind carries your thoughts.
Connecting you always to your shtetl, with thoughts of love.
And though you strayed from its heart, you ran.
Then you returned.
And promised at the end that you would rather die here.
A poor Horodenka Jew.

I choose today to celebrate your yahrtzeit.
And I feel your presence in my salty tears.
And I see you hands preparing to write, as I do now, hunched over.
When in the First War, they murdered our mother, taking from you
Your only one, your wife.

After the funeral, at home
You quietly sang a sad melody.
Your lips, hidden beneath a black moustache, twitched.
Outside, the wind and snow lapped the house.
I will never forget your final lament.
A lonely, wrenching cry.

Entrapped within the conflagration.
As she was, you are now, as well.
If you were not more than tinder for the fire.
If your being was not the blood and song of the fire.
If you had not seen all the witnesses themselves go up in smoke.
The ashen hands of Germans incinerated all.

None were left.
In tiny Horodenka.
Not the feuding housewives, not even the gravediggers.
Only the black fertile soil will commemorate you.
This ground, now free, incinerates its shame.
And rids itself of German steps.

Your shtetl dark and bright.
Your song, your Horodenka.
The care-free Tchvervaner.
Your meadows, your river.
As I remember you.
They will be remembered.
And Spring will remember you.
The Jews from my town.
And Autumn will cry. Autumn.
The Autumn will cry incessantly for you.

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