(Memoirs of the Former Prisoner of the Polonnoye Jewish ghetto)
By Maria Moiseyevna Tribun
Translated by Irina Kaplan and Evelyn Mintzer
The mass “pogroms” and the shootings of the Jews took place during the first week of September 1941. The Jews were hunted down, loaded on trucks, taken to the woods by a railway station and shot. Small children were simply thrown alive into a ditch. The Jews, before they were killed, were stripped naked; gold teeth were removed from their mouths. German soldiers carried out these executions with their local accomplices called “politsai”.
In October-November all the Jews of Polonnoye, Poninka, Novolabun, Bereznya, Vorobievka and Kotelyanka that were still alive, were summoned into a ghetto located in the barracks of a granite quarry on Berezovskaya Street. My infant son, my parents, my brother and sister and myself were among these Jews. We lived in the barracks, slept on the concrete floor and on the shared bunks; there was no heat, the food was sparse. There were over 1,000 people. Some local residents who lived nearby, and our friends from the city and the townships, took pity of us and tried to help as much as they could by bringing potatoes, beets and bread so we wouldn’t starve to death. This existence lasted for months. Some Jews were swollen from starvation. Nobody could leave the ghetto; on the way to work we were guarded by “politsai”. All ghetto inhabitants were ordered to wear a special symbol on their clothes: yellow circles in the front and back, plus white armbands with the Star of David. Those, who were found guilty of even the smallest misdeed, were subjected to corporal punishments, or even shot to death. All ghetto inhabitants were supposed to be present when the corporal punishments were administered. Often we were forced to go to the Jewish Cemetery and destroy the gravestones on the graves of our own loved ones.
Once a stone fell on one young woman’s foot and smashed her toes. She made an attempt to step aside so she could wash her wound and apply a bandage. A guard accused the girl of escaping, and while her father and others watched in horror, the guard shot the girl.
There were plagues like typhus, because the ghetto was overcrowded, and nutritious food was not available.
On June 25, 1942, the ghetto was surrounded by the fascist executioners, who arrived from the city of Shepetovka. The executioners selected from our midst 15 young men and women who would be sent to the Shepetovka ghetto. The rest of the women, old people and children were shot to death.
Among those victims were my parents, my brother and my infant son. By that time I managed to escape from the ghetto and made it to the village of Kotelyanka. There the family of Radion Yanyuk, whom I knew from before, hid me and my sister Evgeniya, who had escaped from the Shepetovka ghetto. Radion and his wife Yevdokiya did all they could to save my sister and me from death.
They subjected themselves to a great risk. If we were found, not only us, but Radion and Yevdokiya too, would be severely punished.
Now I bow before those brave people. They hid me until the village was liberated by the Soviet Army troops in January of 1944.
My sister Evgeniya by the end of 1943 joined a guerrilla detachment.
By Anna Moiseyevna Kalika,
b. 1924, a resident of the City of Odessa,
#35-A, Academician Filatov Street, Apt. 30
Translated by Stan Pshonik
I, Anna Moiseyevna Kalika, was born September 25, 1924, in the township
of Labun, Polonsky District, Khmelnitsky Oblast.
The Germans military took over our Oblast very quickly, by July 1, 1941; I, among other Jews of the township, was deprived of the rights to live.
On July 5, 1941, the Germans forced all the old men to go by the Lenin Monument, and began tormenting them (the men's heads were shaved, their beards were pulled out, they were forced to wash cars with their toothbrushes, etc.). The Germans photographed all this. On August 14th of 1941 my father was told to join the other men for digging some dirt. The men were taken away in covered trucks, but this was just for a pretense. Later that night a man, who escaped his fate, told me that my father was shot dead among the others.
On August 29, 1941, my mother was also shot dead. I lived with my aunt's family, and was always in danger of being shot dead by the Germans or their local accomplices - the "politsai".
On February 14th, 1942, I along with all the other Jews of our township
were forced to walk to the city of Polonnoye's ghetto. The ghetto
was located in 3 - 4 fenced barracks on the outskirts of the city, where
before the war used to be a granite quarry.
While letting us through the gate into the ghetto, we were repeatedly hit by clubs, our valuables were taken away; those who dared to disobey were shot dead right on the spot.
We were forced to go the Jewish Cemetery every day to roll the gravestones from one place to another; those who fell behind in this task were shot immediately. There were 30-40 people in each room in a barrack, we slept on bunks and went to bed hungry.
From May 20 to May 24, 1942, I was sitting in a death chamber of a local
jail for my attempt to escape from the ghetto.
On June 25, 1942, a band of executioners arrived in the ghetto. To scare others, several people were shot dead; one woman was thrown alive into a water well. The Germans selected a group of 14 handymen, including myself; all the others were shot dead in the woods by the quarry. We were sent to the Shepetovka ghetto on July 2, 1942.
Everyday we were doing some senseless work under the supervision of guards, like rolling the gravestones from one place to another at a cemetery.
On September 10th, 1942, there was another mass execution of the ghetto inhabitants. I managed to survive the execution by hiding in a ditch. I stayed there without food or water until September 13th, because the ghetto's guards were searching around for the survivors and shooting them.
When I was sure that the guards had left, I ran to the woods, barefooted, almost naked and hungry. I was going from township to township, closer and closer to the front line. The good people of these townships, out of pity offered me some food. The time from November 1942, to January 4, 1944, I spent at the Bogdanov Ranger Station of Yanush Forestry. Kind people hid me, and I worked for them. I was twice discovered by a "politsai" but avoided being shot dead, thanks to the good people (the Kornienko family, the Senkevich family) who convinced the Germans that I was not a Jew.
On January 4, 1944, when the Soviet Army liberated the territory, I
was again allowed to live, to learn, to work.
Now I reside in the City of Odessa, and am a physician.
October 19, 1991.
Our small city, with a history of ten centuries, has many interesting pages tightly connected with an easy life for the Jews - representatives of an old nation. Religion and culture, which cannot be separated from all human treasures, are the basis of Christianity and all other religions.
We do not have exact information about the time when the Jews came to this land. But as we can read in the 12th volume of the old Jewish encyclopedia that was completed in Petersburg in the Russian language, in the beginning of the 17th century there were already about 12,000 Jews. This number cannot be called an exactly correct fact and the different additions of those numbers were much less. This religious community was one of the most significant in a big Volinsky region. In the times of the Volinsky kingdom the city was a part of Lutsky county, Volinsky district. Analysis of historical materials gives us reason to say that the Jews started settling here in the 15th century, fleeing from religious and nationalistic persecutions that they suffered in the countries of Western Europe. We know about it from the notes on two old Jewish memorials by the River Khomora. Remnants of one of them is in the city district of Novopolonnoye, the second one is still there and functioning on Baranovskoy Street.
During the years of the Fight for Freedom that the Ukrainian people had against the Polish-Shlyatsky oppressions, the Jewish and Polish population in the city was decreasing, many of these people ran away to different counties or were killed during the military actions. Right before consolidating the right side of the river of Ukraine with Russia there was only a few hundred Jews.
At the end of the 17th century, in 1684, the small Jewish community received from Countess Lubomirskaya, who controlled the city, permission that allowed them "to build nice houses and buildings in the central part that was called 'Volia'". For a famous reward that went to the Christians, Jews freed themselves from military service except "General obligation in case of a war". They were granted the right to sell and also trade goods, with the condition that they pay the taxes, as were specified by the kingdom. This helped to increase the numbers of the Jewish population and developing with it, active participation of much needed businesses. Thanks to that, already at the beginning of the 18th century, the city became a large trade center on Volinsky land.
Religious and spiritual aspects of the community always played a large role in their everyday life. Their belief in God helped them to go through the many difficulties in their lives, and gave them hope for a better life in the future. History preserves the names of the spiritual leaders famous at this time - one they called Scientific Rabbi Samson from Ostropol, who worshipped in Polonnye in the middle of the 17th century. In the second half of the 18th century the rabbi's post was taken by Yakov-Yosef haCohen. He was a strong believer in a new, at that period, wave of traditional Judaism that was named Hasidism, that in the translation from Hebrew means "teaching of piety", which is characteristic of the special strict rules of philosophical and ethical principals. The years of the life of Yakov-Yosef Cohen were 1704-1784. He was one of the closest and favorite of the students and a follower of the fundamentalists of the Hasidic Baal Shem Tov from Medzhibozh. He was one of the main candidates for leadership in this religious movement, and an author of two popular works that explained the position of this teaching. Also very well known was another teacher of Hasidism in Polonnoye, the Tzaddic Yehuda Arie-Leib "mochiah". The year when he was born is unknown and he died in 1770. He also wrote a book about "the teaching of Kabala" under the name "Voice of Yehuda".
Both of these rabbis, who were highly respected by the followers of Polonnoyian Hasidism, are resting in a stone crypt that is in a Jewish part of a city cemetery. (It is called an Ohel, which means a tent. [The actual description is a domed concrete crypt about 3 feet high from the ground, and four feet wide.T.N.]). Their graves are called sacred. During the past years Hasidim from many countries and from all over the world, especially from the United States of America and Israel, came to the Ukraine, to Polonnoye and Volin, where their teachings originated, they visit their sacred sites, the place in the old Medzhibozh where their teacher is resting, and also Polonnoye, Shepetovka, Sluvuta, Berdichev, Annopol, Savara and different cities where he lived and worshiped and where his famous students rest. In our city, beginning in 1701, was also a functioning Jewish press that was printing mostly Hasidic literature.
We can write a lot about the Jews of Polonnoye, as their lives became a part of the Ukrainian and other populations during this period of five long centuries. During this difficult historical time there were happy and dark pages. The Jewish poet and dramatist Peretz Davidovich Markish, famous throughout the whole world, talked most eloquently about it in his books. There were some touching words about that time by a Russian writer Sergei Narovchaty. In the forward to his selected poems and verses by P. Markish he wrote, "Polonnoye is a little town in Volin -- not exactly a town and not exactly a township but a shtetl. There were hundreds of these in Old Russia, which were designated as Jewish settlements. According to the Czar's laws, the Jews were not allowed to live outside of these ghettos, but they had to live within them. It was not possible to live in the rural areas and the main large cities. The exceptions were made for the tradesmen and the people with higher education. But the number of millionaires was not large, and in the universities they had a quota system limiting the percentage of Jewish students. According to those rules, in Moscow for example, the number of Jews accepted for schooling could not exceed three in a hundred. The main mass of the Jewish population - not the millionaires and not University graduates - were concentrated in a few western counties of the Russian empire in small cities like Polonnoye.
By the end of the last century there were about 10,000 citizens - Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Jews (according to the census of 1897 there were 16,288 people, but the author probably used numbers from a geographical-statistical dictionary of the Russian Empire of 1873, that stated that the city had at that time 10,682 people--S.B.). The orthodox Catholic Church and the synagogue divided these people according to their beliefs. The china factory, paper factory, mills, rock quarry, fairs and markets mixed and combined all of these people not paying any attention to their beliefs or nationalities. In this city there were tens if not hundreds of little repair places, stalls and small shops, where the provisions always exceeded the need for them. Tailors, shoemakers, weavers, coopers, tried to steal customers from each other and lived on bread and kvas. Small merchants during the daytime would try to catch occasional customers by the hem of their coats, and at night they managed without calculators to balance their daily income. This style of life is very familiar to us from the stories by Sholom Aleichem.
In the Encyclopedia Dictionary of 1898, Volume 24, you can learn that in the city of Polonnoye, Novograd-Volinsky County by the Khomora, there were nine Russian Orthodox churches, a Catholic church, two schools, two factories, a porcelain china factory, an extra-fine china factory (faience), two large mills, a hospital, a pharmacy, and a quarry. But for some reason it does not mention anything about the Jewish synagogues, even though there were not less than seven. After the revolution and until the end of the 1930's almost all of them stopped functioning. Now in the city there is no religious community. At this point there is only the remains of two old synagogues - the main one on Gorky Street where now there are electrical services and the second one is near the rail station - a building converted into a club for porcelain workers.
Jewish entrepreneurs started in the city quite a few different repair places and small family manufacturing businesses. Some of them later became big manufacturers. That's how in 1889 Moishe Shapiro from Slavuta started, by the railroad station building, a factory for fine porcelain china. What he started became the foundation for a large porcelain factory, and Moishe Brichkin at the same time started the manufacturing porcelain industry in the town of Goroshky, that later was moved to Baranovskaya Street and now Kirova Street. This was a small manufacturer that in the present day has become a factory of artistic ceramics. From one of the encyclopedias of 1873 we know that Polonnoye had nine carriage factories, a wine factory, a beer factory, a tar factory and 10 fairs per year. By the emphatic words "factory" and "plant" you need to understand that a small private family business would often have less than 10 employees.
Among the Polonnoyian Jews, as well as Ukrainians, Russians and Poles were many talented people whose names became widely known in the fields of literature and culture, and also in the fields of science and technology. The fame was given to the city and its citizens by the outstanding Russian Jewish poet with the world famous name Peretz Davidovich Markish. He was born to a poor family of Polonnoye on Bakunivtsy, now T. Shevchenko, Street, on the 25th of November by the Gregorian calendar, 1895, and tragically died - was murdered - on August 12, 1952 during the period of the Stalin-Beria repression. He was falsely accused in a case of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, a member of which he was, and he was exonerated after his death in 1955. He glorified his city in his poem "Inheritance" that was written during the years of 1928 through 1948, where with an amazing strength showed pictures from the lives of Jewish proletariats with their uncomfortable life style, their fighting with other poor people for their freedom and happiness in a new period after the first Russian Revolution in 1905. There is a poem about the Polonnoye porcelain factory and it is interesting that one of its main heroes is the revolutionary Natan Kuperman, who was an actual person. In other well-known Markish poems "Volin" (1918) and "Brothers" (1929), he gave a very realistic description of the life-style of the Jewish population during the period following the revolutions of February and October of 1917, times that forever stayed in the poet's memory and even the name of the little city was repeated many times in his poems. We have to emphasize that in Yiddish starting from 1919 until now were printed more than 40 of his books, and in translation to Russian and Ukrainian, 16.
Very famous in the country was an opera singer Lev Mikhailovich Sibiryakov (1870-1938). He was born in Polonnoye to a Jewish family. His real name was Leib Moiseyevich Spivak. He received his musical education in Odessa and perfected his singing skills at the theater "La Scala" in Italy. In order to be able to perform in the Russian opera theaters he converted into Christianity and became Sibiryakov. After that he was given a position as a soloist at the Mariansky Imperial Opera Theater in Petersburg, he performed with Shaliapin and Sobinov. After the revolution in 1921 he emigrated from Russia, toured frequently in Western Europe and became a professor at the Warsaw Conservatory.
Among the scientists from the Jewish population of Polonnoye we have to name the doctor of medical science Professor Peter Grigorovich Tsarfis. He is the author of 200 scientific publications including 20 monograph books. He is known as a founder of a new division in resort therapy, that changed the tradition and practice of curing many human diseases. The scientist is now 74 years old; he lives in Moscow and helps as a scientist-consultant at the Institution of Resort and Physical therapy.
Also remembered in the city is the teacher Aron Ionovich Katz who was a leader of the first Polonnoyian Underground Revkom. On April 8th, 1919, nine members of the Revkom were caught by the Petlurovtsi and brutally slaughtered. A memorial obelisk in their honor was erected in the square on Petrovsky Street.
After establishing the Soviet regime during this period until the end of the Thirties, there developed in the city and area a Jewish culture in Yiddish that opened national schools in Polonnoye and Labun, and a club. For a short period of time besides the Ukrainian newspaper, Jewish and Polish editions were printed also. On an official stamp of Gorsovet there was a text in Ukrainian and Jewish. That meant that the number of people of this nationality was no less than half of the total population. There is some information about a Jewish collective farm in Labun, whose president was H. I. Podkidish. But in 1939 all the Jewish schools - a hearth of native language and culture - were closed, and these students started learning in Russian and Ukrainian.
Our city was also the home for the ex-prime minister of the Communist Party of Israel, Samuel Mikunis. His years were (1903-1982). He led the party from 1948 until 1965 and before that (from 1939) was a secretary for the Communist Party of Palestine and the editor of its underground publication. In his younger years Mikunis was one of the founders and an actor in a working-class theater, he graduated from a polytechnic school in France, and worked as an engineer-builder. At the beginning of the 1960's he visited Polonnoye where he had spent his childhood and youth.
There is some interesting information about the size of the Jewish population. In 1847 it was 2,647 people. In fifty years the census showed the number to be 7,910 with a general population number of 16,288. The city's religious community had besides many Jewish elementary schools, a cheder for the boys, and also its Talmud Torah. It was like a cheder traditional school but mostly for the children from families with little means of income where they studied the first five books of the Bible, in other words called the Pentateuch or the Torah, and many commentaries to biblical texts that were from the Talmud.
Right before the Great Patriotic War there were not less that 9-10,000 Jews living in Polonnoye. Most of them did not have a chance to leave and go to the eastern parts of the country and escape from the fascists. The exception were those who were mobilized and were fighting with the Russian army. The German occupants invaded the city on July the 6th, the 14th day from the beginning of aggression.
From the very first days of the occupation they enacted cruel measures to the civilian population, to the innocent Jewish population and to those people who were mostly women, elderly and children, most of who did not have any energy or real possibility to defend their lives. Pogroms, robberies, vandalizing of poor people by the occupants and police became everyday routines. On the 1st of September a special fascist squadron that came from Shepetovka started an horrific action of mass liquidating the largest part of the Jews from Polonnoye, Vorobievka and other towns. Almost 4,000 victims died in the forest in the vicinity of the railway station during those black days in September. People say that a group of the condemned tried to escape but the whole area was surrounded by soldiers and police, so they were killed from the bullets of the guards. We have information about the executions that happened there, and about an approximate number of people that were killed from the citizens and act commission that was investigating after the liberation. In the other forest, by the working town of Poninka, the murderers killed almost 2,400 Jews during the fall of 1941, the ashes of the murdered people are in six huge graves and witnesses say that one of these graves was of children.
Another horrible page in the black history of the racists was creating a Jewish ghetto in October of 1941 and the extermination of its occupants. In this camp - that was on the territory of a granite mine on Baranovskaya (Kirova) Street - during a nine month period in horribly inhuman conditions there lived, if only we can call it life that horrible existence, almost 1,300 slaves. They were professionals with their families. The occupants left them alive so they could do some necessary work. The murderers made these hopeless and hungry people destroy their own holy places - monuments on the graves of their relatives and friends in the Jewish cemetery, and those who refused to do so were killed right there. Now we can see that almost half of an old necropolis, that for centuries was covered with the monuments of generations that died, doesn't have anything at all, it is even unknown what happened to the base stones, they disappeared.
On June 25th, 1942, the fascists killed 1,270 people in the ghetto close by the railroad crossing near the station of Poninka. Also known is a place where a part of Novolabun's Jews died, in the forest by this town. It's hard to say how many were killed, but the town's committee made a list of the victims by asking survivors and placed in l990 a monument on their grave. We have reasons to say that even now after a half century not all the places where innocent people were shot are known.
The 7,670 victims of Polonini - from the general number of 8,679 - died only because they were of Jewish nationality. That's exactly was their "guilt" according to the animal anti-human hatred "theory" of Hitler's Nazis. This "theory" is called genocide and it was criticized by the people of the whole world as the most horrible carnage against human beings. Six million Jews - one-third of the Jewish population - died in occupied territories in Western and Eastern Europe during the period of 1939-1945 and 7,670 of them were our residents.
Among the millions of Soviet soldiers that bravely battled with the hated enemy in liberating their land from the killers and occupants, there were 500 thousand Jews; 200 thousand of them never came back from the war fields. It is also known that in the partisan corps there were 23,000 Jews fighting along with the others. They were the soldiers that managed to run from German captivity and almost everybody who managed to escape from the ghettos during the uprisings came to those camps.
On the places of Jewish execution in Polonnoye, Poninka and Novolabun there are erected memorials. Unfortunately, right after the liberation no one took care of writing down the names of everybody who was killed during that horrible time, to save their names for future generations. This cannot be explained or defended. Now after five decades we could with many difficulties discover only 1,293 last names, which is only 15%, by asking the tens of witnesses, relatives, and friends that remain in smaller and smaller numbers. It is even more difficult to find names, father's names, and ages for many of them.
During those cruel times there were on this land some simple people, practicing Christians and atheists, that now are called the righteous of peace, that very often by risking their own lives and the well-being of their relatives rescued those who would die, gave them shelter and food, hid them from the Nazis and the police, and helped them to find their road to the partisans to help to fight against the enemy.
That's how a teacher Anastasia Ivanivna Boriskina saved in Polonnoye the student Maria who was the daughter of a friend from the family Shafransky that she knew. The family of Nikolai and Maria Ribachuk from Poninka and their children Stepan and Anastasia for almost two years before the town was liberated were hiding in their house the barber Bagula. There were farmers from the town Kotelyanka, Radion and Evgeniya Yanyuk. Their sons Grigory and Nikolai saved the lives of the Jewish girls Evgeniya and Maria Tribun, who had escaped from the ghetto. The first one of them over the time found the road to the partisan corps, and the second one was hidden from the enemies for over a year and a half until the Soviet Army came. The children from a mixed marriage, Boris and Anatoly Timoshenko remained alive. Their Jewish mother Evgeniya Markovna Druker died, and their Ukrainian father N. N. Timoshenko was fighting with the army. The children that were taken to the ghetto where their mother was a few times were rescued by the relatives of their father and neighbors. His Jewish wife Evgeniya Yakovlevna and his daughter Galina were for 22 months hidden in Poninka by Anton Nikolaevich Baginsky, Polish by nationality. Another two Jewish girls Sophia Meyerson (now Kamenetskay) from the town Vorobievka and Anna Kalika from Labun, who managed to escape from the ghetto, survived because of their bravery, creativity and patience. They called themselves Ukrainians. They changed their last names to Mikhalchuk and Andriychuk. The first one was captured and sent to a camp in Germany, the second one worked until the victory at Bogdanovsky Forest Preserve by Berdichev in Jitomirshina. Polochanian Yakov Marder managed to jump off the car when they were being taken under guard to the forest to the place of execution; he hid in the little towns and then fought with the partisans.
The list of the people who were saved and survived until the victory is very short - just eleven people. Now only seven remain alive. From those who were rescuers, only five are alive. It is possible that there are some people that were saved or were savers, names of whom we do not know. People who tried to save the Jews now are called "Righteous of World Peace". A section under such a name is listed in the Israeli Institute's "Catastrophe and Heroism" that is located in the sacred city of Jerusalem. This institute also has a biblical name "Yad Vashem", that means "Memory and Name". In this institute they gather documents about the tragedy of the Jewish people and the fight of the doomed, about the righteous who saved them. In honor to each one they planted a tree at this memorial complex and everyone received a memory medal. There is a note on this medal "Rescuing a man, you save humanity". Already 8,000 have received it.
At the end of 1991 there were only about 100 Jewish people remaining in Polonnoye, only 19 in Poninka. Citizens of the city and towns, the current and future generation, tries to save the memories of their fellow citizens of Jews, that once along with everybody else worked and lived in this wonderful Ukrainian land during the period of five centuries.
Translated by Irina Kaplan
It was a dreadful and awful winter in 1942. Even nature, it seemed, was dressed in mournful dress. The new authorities (German Army and Ukrainian Police) didn't have pity on the fated people. Every communist, every member of a Soviet office, along with their families were destroyed. The county town of Poninka had been noisy, it was merry not long ago. But now, it had become dogged. It seemed that Poninka was dead. Looking around you could see just empty windows in deserted homes. Some of them were burned. Self-reliant people from the subsidiary police together with the SS men threw out the Jewish people from their homes. 2,400 Jews were terminated. All the other Jewish families were sent to the city of Polonnoye, where the ghetto was situated.
The black sky soaked up the women's and children's weeping, the men's cursing, the clashing of shutter and the hits of rifles butts. But what the people were doing was much worse. We are talking about the Jewish people's neighbors, not about the SS men or the police.
Crazy men and women stole Jewish belongings after the Jews left their homes. These people came to Jewish houses before the police did and stole anything that could be of use. They thought the Jews would never need them again.
After this there were only three families left in the town of Poninka. There were the families of two tailors and the family of a barber, Yakov Semyonovich Bagula. Everyone called him Yasha.
Yasha had to style hair and shave the representatives of the "new" authority. The new mayor Walter had never paid for Yasha's services. The General Manager of Poninka's paper plant called Yasha to come to his house to shave him and give him a new haircut. Twice, during the winter, Yasha served the Germans. They were always pleased with Yasha's work.
But Yasha couldn't buy food for his family. Yasha's mother couldn't move around very well, his wife lost weight. His father, an old blacksmith by the name of Semyon, was taken to the ghetto in the middle of the winter. The family tried to pass him some warm clothes. But once he was gone, nobody knew where he went or what had happened to him.
Sometimes the neighbors, the family of Ribachuk, came to their house. The head of the Ribachuk family, Nikolai Grigorovich, brought them homemade bread. Sometimes his wife sent presents, too. Their son Stepan was very close to being arrested as a former Red Army soldier. He seldom walked on the town's streets.
Looking at his family Yasha said, "We still have some honest people in this world." By the end of 1942 people started talking about the Red Army and that they might come to their city pretty soon. Yasha thought about his and his family's fate, because the Germans shot Jews whenever they stepped out of their houses. They would have to look for a shelter. There weren't any secret rooms in their house so they continued to wait for their doom.
Stepan found the answer to their problem. There was a shelter under the stove in the Ribachuk's house. Stepan made the shelter wider so there would be enough space for three adults. Nikolai and his wife camouflaged that shelter. Everything was ready for hiding when the time came.
It snowed on March 15, 1942. Yasha sharpened his shaving tools. At this moment he heard somebody coming into his house. It was Derkas, the manager of the paper plant, who had never come to Yasha's house before. Yasha began to shave his client, but something was wrong that day. No, he didn't cut Derkas' face, but the compress was too hot. Derkas told Yasha nothing. But he gave him an awful glance when he left the house.
Yasha was very worried. Soon he had more clients. Some old man from a town close by was very happy with Yasha's work; he gave him two marks and a fresh cabbage cake.
Yasha's wife was very happy that her family had something to eat. But Yasha couldn't eat. All the time he thought about Derkas' glance.
He took a new can of shaving cream and went over to Derkas' home.
When he arrived there, he found the host and the mayor writing some papers. There was an SS man in the room.
"You must not live in your house anymore," the mayor said, "in the morning you must go to the ghetto. To keep your thoughts straight a couple of policemen will watch your house this night."
Yasha quickly went over to his house. When he got there it was dusk. He noticed a policeman near the porch. Yasha went around to the back window. He was knocking on the window very slowly. His wife's face, scared and wet, appeared in the window. She waved her hands saying, "Get Out!"
Yasha rushed over to the Ribachuk's house. Stepan knew everything, so did his family. Stepan showed Yasha to the shelter.
In the morning the policemen came to look for Yasha. They came to the Ribachuk's house and searched, but they found nothing. The Ribachuks were standing near their house watching Yasha's family being taken to the ghetto. Yakov Bagula has never seen his family since that day in 1942.
The summer went to its logical ending. Days became shorter. People gathered the harvest. People expected a hungry winter. No one talked about the return of our army. Only the high chimneys of a paper factory produced black, black smoke.
Stepan Ribachuk was on his way from the ghetto. He brought the barber's wife bread, a little bit of eggs and schmaltz.
Already for two and a half months, Yakov Bagula was hiding in the house of the Ribachuks. The lair under the fireplace became the place of his living.
The house of the Ribachuks was searched again in two days. Then they came again. One of the politsais (Ukrainian officials) who Stepan knew looked even behind the curtain by the oven. Stepan's chest became cold. His saw how whitened his father, who inhaled the smoke of samosad, became. His mother and sister silently left without looking at the politsais. This time it missed them again.
The family of the Ribachuks knew what would happen if their secret were known. Bagula would be shot immediately, the house would be burnt to the ground and all the family would be hung and left on display in the downtown center of Poninka.
At the beginning Yasha was going to hide for just a few days and then go to join the partisans. But his weakened legs reminded him. Because of this he was not taken to the army. In a cold and humid basement, the disease progressed. At night they had to force him to get out of his hidden place. They had to lower all the curtains in the house. The barber could walk from room to room. At the beginning he walked but soon he could just curl on the bench and lay there the entire night. In the early morning he would hide in his usual place again.
The barber's mother and wife constantly checked with the Ribachuks when they weekly brought them food. "How is Yasha?" The thought that he was still alive gave them strength.
But in June they were shot. Until today the names of those who were killed in the Polonnoyian ghetto are still unknown. All together there were killed about 1,300 people.
Yakov Bagula took the news about his family's death very hard. The Ribachuks thought he would die. At night when they helped him get out of his hidden place, they got scared, he was all white. From then on they stopped thinking about his running to the forest. Yasha completely stopped walking. Probably he did not understand people. All day he sat in his secret hiding place. At night he silently looked at the stars through the window.
Starosta Walter visited the Ribachuks every day. "Do you see your neighbor?" he asked constantly. "He could not run very far. We will catch him anyway. Then he will tell us who hid him and who fed him."
Probably he felt that without the Ribachuks' help, Bagula would not be able to hide. The Ribachuks kept a straight face. Leaving the house he would traditionally ask the old Ribachuk, "Hey, Mikala, you probably would love to be now a German or Faltzdeutcher?"
The old man would only spit. He did not like Walter even before the war.
Nasty was the only one who had luck sometimes getting the barber to talk. Doing something by the oven, she would quietly tell the Jew the last news from the front or today's news.
But soon even the enjoyment of talking to the girl ended. She was sent to work in the Fatherland. Nasty could have run away to the forest to join the partisans but she didn't. But then they would start looking for her, and burn the house to the ground. To run to the forest with two old people and Yasha, who could not move at all, was impossible. That's how the summer and fall passed. Yasha even forgot that 1943 was coming. On a New Year's night he spent the time at the window. On the dawn he quietly returned to his secret hiding place.
The winter went on unnoticeably. Stepan and his father did any kind of work for people in order to get some bread. Here they would fix an oven, there they would help to fix the house. Yasha was slowly fading. There were nights that he would never get out of his place. He sat there half asleep. When the weather became warmer he, by slowly moving, got to his old home.
He found his old tools. Razors covered with a lot of dust and rust and a shaving brush, for some reason, dry and clean. Probably his wife washed it when he ran to Derkas.
He found also his wife's mirror in a crustacean bronze frame. It was lying broken by the threshold, a politsai's heel left a mark on it. Immediately he remembered his wife sitting on Sunday with the mirror, fixing her lips.
Tears started running down his dry faded face. He was crying until morning …
At the beginning of May, the Ribachuks were visited by an old friend of Stepan, Anton Baginsky. From his secret place, Yasha heard how the guest and the Ribachuks reminisced before the war years.
Then the parents went to bed but Stepan and Anton talked about something for the longest time. Yasha eventually fell asleep but in the morning he was awakened by Stepan's voice.
"Yasha, Yasha! Get up. You know what Anton told me. He hides in the basement of his house his wife. You know she is Jewish, and his 10-year-old daughter, they are hiding there."
"So, I am not the only one who is hiding in the hole. Are we going to die in our own town?" No, our people will be back, thought the barber.
When Stepan walked at night to the Baginskys he, like the first time, looked around him. With all his body he inhaled the smell of blooming gardens. He thought about the barber. He believed Yasha must survive. In spite of Derkas and Walter, despite the SS, despite their horrible guns. They talked a lot that night. They drank a lot of Samogon. Together they looked through magazines from before the war, remembering funny stories from their town's life.
When they said good-bye, Stepan asked the Baginskys for a Bible for Yasha. Starting that night, the barber was reading this book. He remembered his old school gymnastic exercises and he did them. His body started gaining strength, day after day. The Bible with its quotations gave him more confidence - the bad will be punished.
Now Yasha did not sleep, he tried to use every single second. At nights he started walking around a little bit at the beginning, then his strength started coming back. In the fall he had to interrupt his walks. The town was full with departing Germans. Yasha could hear their guttural sounds even in his hidden place. Once in the morning two SS soldiers came into the house. They spent fifteen days in the Ribachuk's house. They took turns in watching some kind of a warehouse. During the daytime one of them would sleep in the house, the other one would go to guard.
Both roommates were called Gansams. On the second day Yasha could already tell which one was at home, which one was on the guard. Ganse "the little" liked everything in order. He often cleaned up by the oven using hot water. He enjoyed it very much. Once he accidentally pulled the curtain. It fell. The water after he cleaned fell through the cracks on Bagula's head. But he patiently took it.
Never before were the Ribachuk family and Yasha in such danger. It would have been enough for the Germans to hear a cough or any kind of noise and hand grenades would fly in. The Nazi had about ten hand grenades on their belts. Yasha could see each movement of the tenants. Watching them he learned each scratch on their boots.
On his tiptoes Yasha could walk to the chair where the automatic was hung, along with their satchels, backpack and a knife. The Germans were asleep. His desire to kill them was enormous. But what would happen then to the Ribachuks? It was death for sure. The barber sent away this thought about getting even.
The Germans stayed in Poninka for a period of about three weeks and then they left. Our army was very close. Kiev was already freed. The Red Army was coming.
Poninka was empty again. Yasha started doing his walks again. Once Stepan came to the Baginskys and did not find anyone in the house. "Were they all killed?"
At the beginning of 1944 our army came to Poninka. The Baginsky family that spent the last months of the occupation with the partisans came back home. Their daughter Lina was still alive. She was a witness of this story.
The old Ribachuks died in the '60s. The Jewish man that they saved called them father and mother until the end of his life.
Nastya Ribachuk returned back from the fascist slavery too. She still lives in the house that Yakov Bagula gave to his savior. She loves her grandchildren who are adults already and who often come to visit their grandmother, Nastya.
Stepan Ribachuk, after the liberation, went to the front. He was wounded and came back to Poninka. He still lives happily surrounded by his relatives. Friends often ask him to fix the plaster around the ovens. He would never say no to anyone.
Yakov went to the front also. He went to Berlin. After the liberation he came back to Hmelnitsk. He visited the Ribachuks often. In 1955 he died under strange circumstances.
At the end I would love to add that faraway from Podilskoi Poninka, in Israel, there is an institute that tries to put together the names of those who saved Jews risking their own lives. The rescuers are asked to visit the institute. Each one of them has to plant a tree, and he gets a gold medal that says, "Saving a person, you are saving humanity ".
Translated by Irina Kaplan
Fifty years have passed since the horrible words "Babi Yar" were carved into the hearts and souls of the people of the world. From September 29th, 1941, until September 1943, fascists were bringing and killing people at this site. At the beginning the victims were Jews, but later it was anyone who wasn't pleasing for the Wehrmacht. Women and children, men, young and old - Aryans, it did not matter. They did not feel sorry for anyone. And how many of those Babi Yars were in the territory occupied by the Germans.
Just in our region there were killed, and buried alive almost 8,000 people of the Jewish nationality. Even today it is hard to estimate the real scale of this tragedy, because today we cannot say exactly how many innocent people were killed.
The fascists cruelly terminated the Jewish people. The Nazis' ideologists calculated everything to a small detail. In September the Jewish people had their High Holy Days. At this exact time they started killing the Jews. All criminal acts the enemies tried to schedule with the holiday dates, they were trying to show the people an end to their beliefs and Jewish laws.
On this sunny September day many people, not just Jews were hurrying to the local House of Culture, these people were of different nationalities, beliefs and outlooks. In a small hall you could hear Jewish songs. Familiar and unfamiliar people quietly talked with each other.
It was the first time in many years that it was openly displayed on the wall a poster with one of the sacred holy symbols of the Jewish people - a seven branched candelabra menorah - and the words of the prophet Isaiah from the Bible "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war any more."
Now on this stage behind the table were seated the hosts of the evening, U. M. Kaminska, M. O. Smilivets; assistant to the head of the local Rada of people's deputies, G. Y. Ukrainets; initiator of the evening of memories, S. L. Bentsianov.
The hosts open the evening telling the people about all the horrors the Jewish people had to go through during the period of the Great Patriotic War.
It is not surprising that today we want to know more about the truth of those horrible years. The assistant to the head of Rayvikonkom G. Y. Ukrainets talked to these people with words of appreciation for attending this gathering. It is impossible to live without memories and beliefs. He talked about the horrible brutalities that the Germans caused on the Polonski land. He named people that were caught by the inhumans and sent to the ghetto, but were rescued thanks to good people.
New historical facts from history become known every day. Nobody can forget his or her history.
Semyon Lvovich Bentsianov is known to our readers as a contributor correspondent, a member of the Union of Journalists of SRSR. Piece by piece he collected and continues to collect historical materials about his people that lived here in Polonshina, about famous people, about the national tragedy of the Jews - that's exactly what he was talking about during this meeting.
People got up to honor the memory of those who died during the war. They lit candles and at the same time Alexander Gitel read the Kaddish prayer. It sounds in the old Jewish language, but it seems that an inner voice of sorrow and memory wake up in everyone who is present. Everyone has tears in their eyes. The heart hurts, the throat chokes - it is hard to remember, hard to imagine, that you have survived, and by some kind of a miracle fled from the horrible hands of the inhumans.
How many are those that survived and those that rescued them? There are less and less alive of the witnesses of that horrible battle.
At this moment the host of the evening, U. Kaminska invites on the stage those who survived thanks to good people: Evgeniya Moiseyevna Tribun, Galina Antonovna Baginsky, Sophia Mikhailovna Kamianetsky, Boris Michailovich Timoshenko, Ganna Moiseyevna Kalika.
Here are those who risking their lives and the lives of their children, gave away the warmth of their souls, last slice of bread, helped survive those who were doomed: Anastasia Ivanivna Boriskina, brother and sister Stephan Michailovich and Anastasia Mikhailovna Ribachuk, brothers Grigory and Nikolai Yanyuk. The hosts started telling their moving stories about those people, their uneasy life, about all the good that they did and are doing, about the generosity of their heart, wealth of their soul, sensitivity, honesty and humanity. How many more good words can you use to describe these people? There is nothing more sacred than a memory, as a reminder about them to the younger generation. You can't forget it!
Before either the faults of the time or the oppression of "blooming socialism" they were given a chance to talk in a full voice about the tragedy of the Jewish people that took place during the period of the Great Patriotic War. But we can't keep it quiet, everyone who lives in our land must remember it.
Our newspaper has told in its time about these people and about their rescuers.
But let's continue our story about this meeting. The podium is given to the head of the local Polish community, Stanislav Tadeushevich Dermanovsky, that in his native language told what his grandmother had told him once, that in the forest by Poninka, Germans gathered the elderly, children and women and then murdered them. "I was a little boy and thought it was a fairy tale. But my dear friends let us not let it happen again and let all people live in peace. But we will remember that forever" - concluded his speech - Stanislav Tadeushevich.
Frantsishka Boleslavovna Vishnevska sang to the people two Polish songs.
Again memories, stories told by the hosts, memories by the witnesses. A lot of sincere thank yous.
Here is one more story. Boris Michailovich Timoshenko - a child from a mixed marriage. Someone from the malevolent neighbors whispered to the Germans that his mother Evgeniya Markovna was Jewish. So she and her two little children were taken to the ghetto. They took them and then they let them out. Their father's brother managed to get the children out of the ghetto by bribing the Germans with a piece of schmaltz and a bottle of Vodka. The grandfather for a long time helped to bring something to their mother to eat. But one day he was brutally beaten by the Germans.
Later our neighbors saw when the group from the ghetto was being taken to Shepetovka; one of the people was Evgeniya Markovna. From that moment the brothers did not know where is their mother, where is her grave. But they survived. The grandmother was hiding with them at her friend's home in Shepetovka.
Boris Mikhailovich expressed to the gathering greetings from his brother Anatoly, who lives in Dnepropetrovsk, greetings, thanking them for this gathering and remembering about relatives and darling people who were murdered by the fascists …
And there on. They are different in happiness but in their grief or sorrow they are all alike. That is the similarity between Yakov Bagula, that was saved by the family Ribachuk, and sisters Tribun, that were hidden by the family Yanyuk from Kotelyanka.
Wouldn't the biggest appreciation for them be our memory?
Maria Moiseyevna Tribun told about horrible crimes, about pogroms that
were organized by the politsais and the SS.
"I want to give a low bow to the family of Yanyuk for saving our lives," - she said - got on her knees and put her head low as a sign of thanking. She came from far away - from Riga to the land of Polonnoye - to honor the memory and one more time to thank her rescuers.
This is a different story. Ganna Moiseyevna Kalika, who now lives in Odessa, but at that time in Novolabun.
"My mother and father were killed in September of 1941. We were taken to the ghetto. Everyday we had to work, but it wasn't any kind of a useful job. We simply were supposed to shake the stones in the Jewish cemetery. To work there was very painful, the Germans whistled and giggled while making us desecrate those graves. But what could we do being under their automatics and sharp-teethed German dogs? Being scared and hungry made the people do what they did. We weren't given anything to eat. We survived on whatever we could find - goosefoot herbs, potatoes, peels of potatoes, or whatever good people would give us. On September 10th, 1942, while we were in the Shepetovka Ghetto the Nazis came. I hid along with a girl from Great Berezna in a ditch and we spent three days there. Then we started going.
"People gave us whatever they could. But the main thing was that no one gave us to the Germans. They believed me, that I was a Ukrainian and had a Ukrainian name. The Germans believed that I was not Jewish too. In December of 1943, during my work in the Bogdanovsky Forest Preserve in Jitomirshina, they wanted to murder me but I ran away because it very close to where ours (Russian soldiers) were …"
Citizen from Novolabunya, Andrey Vladimirovitch Drachuk told a story about the murdering of Jews in the forest next to his town. How he, a 17-year-old boy, helped to rescue a woman and girl.
"I was looking for a cow in the forest, and all of a sudden heard the sound of motorcycles. I hid behind the bushes and saw five or six cars coming. From those cars Germans began herding people to a ditch. They started shooting. At this moment I saw a little girl with a doll in her hands and a woman. I quietly called them and along the lake behind the bushes led them to my home. The woman asked me to show her the way to Golubchu; they had some relatives there. When it became dark I took them there. I have never seen them again and I don't know if they survived."
Death. What a horrible word! How bitter it echoes in the soul of each person. I want to quote a few words from a telegram from Moscow from Krivoruchko and Gilberg. Their parents, brothers and sisters were murdered in the forest near the railroad station.
"Dear Fellow Countrymen, Polonchany! On the day of the 50th anniversary of the murder of Jews, our relatives and friends, by German fascists, we together with you are sad and grieving. We put our heads down before their bright memories. Memory - that's the link between past and present. We will forever have in our memory our relatives and close ones, hundreds of Polonchans - Ukrainians, Jews, and Russians that died fighting for our Motherland.
"This tragic date holds to our human conscience, to strengthening our brotherhood and friendship between people, to the well doing of our great Motherland and a small one - the old and beautiful city Polonnoye.
"We wish you all heath and well-being.
"With appreciation, Family Krivoruchko and Gilberg"
Women are wiping their wet eyes, gray-haired men sit sadly. It is quiet in the hall; you can only hear the flickering of the candles, the blinking of their flames. It feels as if along with those memories, all the horrible pictures of the murders came into the room.
Rozaliya Natanovna Greenfeld:
"I am very thankful that my fellow countrymen sacredly saved the memories about the bad times of our relatives and close ones. My whole family was killed. I was rescued by the Army and went to the Front. I worked for 42 years as a doctor giving to the people all my skills, my knowledge, trying to help in the fight against misfortune. To honor the memory of those who died came my relatives Larisa from Tashkent and Paulina from Uralsk. We will all go to the graves where our relatives were murdered."
Esphir Chaimovna Kaplun - a doctor from Moscow, a participant of the Great Patriotic War: "Until the present day I still don't know where is the location of the grave of my mother and my only son. He was only three years old. If somebody remembers something, please speak out. I am left alone, my husband died, but I will always remember the voices and eyes of my relatives. Let it never happen again."
Raisa Gregorevna Kukuy: "I happened to see this misfortune in Belorussia where I lived at this time with my parents. We were hidden by Belorussians, Belevsky. Now we have a huge family - 16 people. We have Russians and Udmurts but we all live like one solid family. God willing our children and grandchildren will never see it again."
Also coming to visit was a member of the committee of the Khmelnitski community, "Reborn" Zinaida Borisovna Lerman, and she gave as a present some books from her community.
There also were some memorable souvenirs and books from organizers of this event and from evangelists, Christians - Baptists.
This night they listened to the poems by Ilya Erenburg, Peretz Markish, Lev Ozerov, Semyon Lipkin. You could feel the pain and the screams of those who died and your soul felt like it was torn into pieces:
Why do you need words and a pen
When there is a stone in your heart
When as a slave dragging a cannon ball
I am dragging somebody's memory?
With those words by Ilya Erenburg I am finishing my story about an evening of memories. I am begging you, dear Polonchanins to remember this, remember Polonskys, Babi Yars, forever.
Translated by Irina Kaplan
Anastasia Ivanivna Boriskina was born in the village of Struga of Novoushitsky district in l905. She graduated from Kamenets-Podolsky's teacher-training college and then for many years had been working as a chemistry and biology teacher in a high school in the town of Polonnoye. She retired in 1962. She has two sons. One of them lives in Kiev, another is Kishinev. Anastasia Ivanivna has two grandsons and one granddaughter also. There is even a great-granddaughter now.
But at the time of WWII Anastasia Boriskina was only a few steps away from death. Each moment then, she and her children could have been shot by the German fascists because for one and a half years Anastasia Boriskina hid Maria Shafranskaya - a young Jewish woman. That was a long and sad story.
When the German fascists attacked the USSR and the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out, Anastasia's husband went toward the front to fight against the fascists. Anastasia, with her children, tried to run away from the approaching German troops. But the German army in that first period of war moved forward much faster than she and her little sons could walk by feet along overcrowded dusty roads. The German tanks and motorcyclists outstripped her and Anastasia was forced to come back to her house in Polonnoye.
At that time the Germans already occupied Polonnoye. Most of the people that were remaining in the town were women, children and elders. Adult men went to the Red Army or fled to the neighboring forests to become guerilla fighters against the fascists. Many of Polonnoye's residents were Jews. They were afraid and terrorized because most of them understood that the fascists were preparing a massacre for the Jews. To say the truth, there were a few people that welcomed the occupants and were ready to help these occupants and collaborate with them.
Some of those collaborators went to the Germans to serve as policemen. Very soon a punitive expedition, which consisted of SS-men, submachine-gunners and local policemen started a police swoop on Polonnoye. All the ways out of town were blocked. Fascists walked from house to house and took all the Jews with them. The local policemen helped the Germans to identify the Jews. All the captured Jews were escorted to the ghetto and shortly thereafter executed.
At the time when SS-men and policemen came into Anastasia's home she hid five Jews who were her friends and neighbors. Among those five were two Jewesses, the teachers; and two Jewish men, who were the brothers of Professor Peter Tsarfis from Moscow. The fifth was a young Jewess, a medical student, whose family was taken to the ghetto. Jews were hidden in the barn, in the backyard and fascists failed to find them. When the fascists went away from Polonnoye with all their captives and the night fell upon Polonnoye, four of the hidden Jews, two men and two women, left Anastasia's home to go to the forest to seek the partisans. But one Jewess, 22 years old Maria Abramovna Shafranskaya, a medical student at that time, was sick and not able to go to the forest. Anastasia kept her in hiding and hid her for one and a half years. It was very dangerous.
The Germans announced that if they had found any hidden Jews they would shoot these Jews and the owners of the houses with their families. Fascists frequently arranged police raids to find the hidden Jews. Many times they came in Anastasia's house also. In 1943 a part of Anastasia's house was occupied by the chief of Polonnoye's police. Henceforth the risk for Anastasia's family and Maria Shafranskaya increased enormously. One time the policemen organized a party in Anastasia's house and they drank heavily for many hours while Maria was hidden in a closet. But Anastasia, Maria and even Anastasia's little children remained brave, patient and self-controlled, so the policemen didn't discover Maria.
All this time she wanted to go to the partisans and join them. But it was not so easy and it had to take a long time. The partisans were very cautious in their contacts with the local residents of Polonnoye. They were afraid of encountering Gestapo agents in the partisan detachment. Anastasia began very carefully asking her friends how she could contact the partisans. After a few failures Anastasia found a man who promised to arrange a meeting with a partisan messenger.
In the summer of 1943 she succeeded in getting in contact with the messenger from the partisan detachment, Pheophan Philipovich Kirilishin. He took Maria to the partisans and Maria had enough time to fight against the fascists with arms in hands. After the victorious end of the war Maria left for Moscow and a few years later graduated from a medical institute and became a doctor. Until now Maria is remembering all that happened during the war and is greatly thankful to her savior Anastasia Ivanivna Boriskina. She calls Anastasia her mother.
It was the 6th of July, l941, when our district was occupied by German fascists. It happened so quickly and unexpectedly that many people didn't understand what was going on. People carried on normally with working in their homes, in the fields and orchards. For more than a month after this it was all quiet in the district, only bailiffs (supervisors) of villages from the local residents were appointed by the German occupants. In Russia, Byelorussia and Ukraine these supervisors had the name "starosta".
But in September four covered trucks with German submachine gunners arrived in the town of Novolabun. They drove all Jewish residents of the town together on the central square of Novolabun. Most of these Jews were elderly people, women and children. For several hours they were forced to stay at the square with the submachine guns of the fascists directed upon them. Germans mocked them, wrenched their beards away, and forced them to clean up cars with toothbrushes.
Since that day the Jews from Novolabun fully recognized what means the word "oblava" (police swoop). Every time during those raids, which recurred very frequently, fascists took some Jews to the neighboring forest and shot them. Anna Kalika first lost her father. One day he left home and went to the center of the town but didn't come back home. A few hours later Anna found out that the fascists executed her father. During the next raid Germans broke in the Kalika's house. This time they took Anna's mother.
Anna had a miraculous escape during the police raid; she was not at home. Anna, a Jewish girl-teenager remained alone. Anna knew that if she will be taken to the ghetto, she would be killed in a few days or weeks. So she decided to escape toward the East and run across a front line. It was a risky and difficult way, hundreds of miles long, through the territory occupied by the enemy. She kept back her Jewish origins and her real name. She called herself by a false name and as a Ukrainian. At last she managed to cross the front line and come to territory under Soviet control. She survived and remained alive and after the war for many years has lived in the city of Odessa.
But sometimes Anna visits the place where she got through her childhood, lost her parents and spent the terrible time under the German occupation. Not long ago, during such a visit, she came to the editor's office of the local newspaper and told them her life's story.
Our small village has a history often centuries, many pages of which are quite interesting. These pages are closely related to the difficult life of the Jewish people who are representatives of an ancient nation,religion and culture. Unfortunately there are no records of the time when the Jewish people appeared on the land of Polonnoye, but according to the data of the 12 volume pre-Revolutionary Jewish encyclopedia, which was published in St. Petersburg in the Russian language, in the beginning of the 17th century there lived 12 thousand Jewish people on this territory.
Jews started to in the area of Polonnoye in the 15th century, running away from religious and national persecutions that they suffered in Western Europe. The inscriptions on the monuments of the two old necropolises witness this. In the years of the struggle of the Ukrainians against the Polish invaders the quantity of the Jewish population diminished greatly, many of them left the country, others perished in battles. Before the union of the right coast of Ukraine with Russia there lived only several hundred Jews.
In 1864 the Jewish population received permission from Countess Lubomirskaya, who controlled the land, to build houses and other constructions in the central part named Volia. They also received permission to practice different crafts and trades, which led to the uniting of the Jewish population and to the development of crafts and industry.
Religion had always been very important in the life of the Jewish population of Polonnoye. Their faith in God and the following of God's commandments helped them to overcome the difficulties of life. One of the spiritual leaders of that time (middle of the 17th century) was Rabbi Samson from Ostropol who preached in Polonnoye. In the second half of the 18th century Rabbi Yakov Yosef was very famous, he was the supporter of the new trend in the traditional Judaism, named Hasidism, which means teaching of piety. The years of the life of Yakov Yosef were 1704 - 1784. He was one of the closest pupils of the founder of Hasidism, Israel Baal Shem Tova from Medzhibozh, and the author of two major works, which formulate the basis of his teaching. Another advocate of Hasidism was Yehuda-Leib. It's unknown when he was born, he died in 1770. He wrote a book with the title "The Voice of Yehuda".
The places where the Rabbis are buried are still there in the Jewish cemetery and are considered to be the sacred places. Nowadays Hasids from the wealthy countries of the world, such as the United States of America and Israel, come to the Ukraine where their teachings originated. They visit these sacred places, such as Medzhibozh, where the founder of Hasidism is buried, as well as Polonnoye, Shepetovka, Slavuta, Berdichev, Gannopil, Skvir, and other places where the famous followers of the teachings are buried. In 1791 a printing shop was founded in our place where hasidic literature was published. The life of the Jewish people in Polonnoye during the five centuries had its bright and dark pages, which were masterfully depicted by a remarkable Jewish poet, Peretz Davidovich Markish, who was born in this area.
The encyclopedia, published in 1898, mentions that in the village of Polonnoye of Novgorod-Volinsky region, on the river of Khomora, there were nine Christian Temples, a Catholic Church, two schools, a porcelain plant, a clinic, a drug store, but nothing is mentioned about a Jewish synagogue, though there were at least seven of them. After the revolution and until the end of the thirties all of them were liquidated. Two buildings of the former synagogues are still there: one on Gorky street, where there are some energy services, the other - near the railway station, where the club for the porcelain factory workers is located.
The Jewish shops were mostly opened in the areas where there were very few shops, that is why many of them later grew into large enterprises. As for example, Moishe Shapiro started building a small factory in 1889 that was producing china and porcelain, which became the basis of the existing china factory. Moishe Brichkin started a shop producing ceramics; later it became a big factory of ceramics.
Among the Jewish, Ukrainian, Polish and Russian people who lived in the Polonnoye area, there were a lot of talented people who contributed to the development of literature and culture, science and technology. The poet Peretz Davidovich Markish brought glory to his Motherland. He was born in Polonnoye on Bakunivtsy (now it's Shevchenko Street) November 25th, 1895, and tragically died in 1952 during the years of the Stalin-Beria repression. The poet was blamed in the participation in the so-called case of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. He was rehabilitated posthumously in 1955. He glorified his town in the famous poem "Heritage" where he wrote about the life of Jewish workers, their hardships, their struggle together with the Ukrainian and Russian workers for happiness and liberation in the years of the revolution of 1905.
There is also a poem about the Polonnoye porcelain shop, which grew later into the china factory. It's interesting to note that one of the characters, Natan Kuperman, a young revolutionary, was really an existing person. In his poems, like "Freedom", "Brothers", Markish showed the truthful pictures of the lives and struggles of the Jewish people in those years. The name of this place is often mentioned in his poetry.
The name of the opera singer, Lev Mikhailovich Sibiryakov (1870-1938), our compatriot is well known. He was born in Polonnoye to a poor Jewish family. His real name was Leib Spivak; he received a musical education in Odessa, then studied at "La Scala" in Italy. In order to be able to sing in Russian opera theaters, he became a Christian and took the name of Lev Sibiryakov. He was hired by the Marrinsky Opera Theater and for years he sang together with F. Shaliapin and L. Sobinov.
Among the famous people in the Jewish population of the town Polonnoye we should mention the name of the Doctor of Medicine, Professor Peter Grigorovich Tsarfis, the author of 200 scientific publications. He contributed greatly to curing many people's illnesses. The name of Aron Ionovich Katz, the first revolutionary leader and a teacher, is well known too. In 1919 eight members of the revolutionary committee were captured by Petlura and cruelly executed. There is a monument commemorating their memory in the park in the center of the town on Petrovsky Street.
Until the end of the Thirties a Jewish culture in Yiddish was successfully developing. There were Jewish schools and a club. Besides the Ukrainian and Polish newspapers there was a Jewish one. In the local newspaper there were Ukrainian and Jewish texts. There is data about a Jewish kolkhoz that existed at that time. It's worth mentioning that Polonnoye is the birthplace of the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Israel, Samuel Mikunis (1903-1982). He headed the party from 1948 until 1965.
It's interesting to note that the Jewish population of the place was 2,647 in 1847, and in 50 years it grew to 7,910 with the total population being 16,288. The religion was based on Talmud and Torah. This was the traditional school of studying the first five chapters of the Bible, the five books of Moses which are called Torah, and the commentary to the biblical texts which are given in Talmud.
Before the Great Patriotic War nine to ten thousand Jews lived in the Polonnoye region. The majority of them were not able to leave the place. Only those left who were mobilized into the Army's struggle against the fascists. From the first days of the occupation the cruel reprisals against the Jewish population began, the population consisted mostly of women, children and older people who could not defend themselves. Pogroms and harassment of the helpless people became a part of life. Already on the first of September a special fascist battalion that came from Shepetovka, executed the massive liquidation of the majority of the Jewish population of Polonnoye and other regions.
Around four thousand people perished in the forest that was near the railway station on that black September day. The documents of the commission, formed after the liberation, bear witness to this and the other cruelties of the fascists, as well as the quantity of people tortured and killed. In the other forest, which is near Poninka, only during the year of 1941, some 2,400 Jews perished. They were shot and buried in six huge graves, one of which was of children.
The creation of Jewish ghettos and their liquidation is one of the most tragic pages in the history of humanity. Around 1,300 people of different professions were working for the occupants. The fascist barbarians made those people destroy the monuments in the Jewish cemetery; those who refused to do it were shot on the spot. Now we see that almost half of the monuments in the cemetery are not there any more. On June 25, 1942, the fascists killed 1,270 people from the ghetto near Poninka.
There is another place, near the village of Novolabun, where many Jewish people were killed. It's hard to say how many of them were shot there. Even now we don't know all the places where the peaceful population were killed by the fascists. 7,670 martyrs of Polonnoye perished only because they were Jewish. This was their guilt according to the fascists' theories. This "theory" of hatred is called genocide. It is renounced by all the nations as a crime.
In the places where the Jewish population was shot in Polonnoye, Poninka and Novolabun there are monuments commemorating their memory. It's a pity though that nobody made records of the names of people who were killed there, this cannot be excused. Now, in 50 years, they have managed to restore 1,153 names; it's important to find out their last names and their dates of life.
In those dangerous years there were people, religious and atheists, Ukrainians, Russians, Polish, who helped to save the lives of people, risking their own lives. They helped the people they saved to escape the police and to find their way to the partisans. Thus the teacher, Anastasia Ivanivna Boriskina from Polonnoye saved Maria Shafranskaya. The family of Nikolai and Maria Ribachuk from Poninka were hiding in their house Yakov Bagula. Radion and Yevdokiya Yanyuk saved the lives of two Jewish girls, Evgeniya and Maria Tribun, who ran away from the Ghetto.
The children of mixed marriages, like Boris and Anatoly Timoshenko, whose mother was Jewish and was killed, and whose father, Ukrainian, was in the Army, were also saved. Some of the children that were taken with their mothers to the ghetto were saved by their relatives or neighbors. Anton Nikolaevich Baginsky from Poninka was hiding his friend's daughter for 22 months, saving her life. Two other Jewish girls, Sophia Meyerson from Vorobievka and Anna Kalika from Novolabun managed to run away; they saved their lives by taking Ukrainian names and pretending they were Ukrainians. Both of them were working until the liberation. Yakov Marder managed to run away from the car when they were driven to the place of execution.
There were only 11 of them who escaped death and survived until the Victory Day. Now only 7 are alive. From those who saved their compatriots 5 are still living. Those people are now called "righteous people of the world".
S. Bentsianov, member of the Union of Journalists of Russia.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Polonnoye, Ukraine Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2021 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 14 Dec 2005 by LA